Yukon’s education minister has asked a Roman Catholic school in Whitehorse to remove a religious document from its website that describes “homosexual orientation” as “intrinsically disordered” and “homosexual acts” as “acts of grave depravity.”
Education Minister Scott Kent met with Bishop Gary Gordon of Whitehorse March 5 after parents raised concerns about the document’s language. Gordon, who is responsible for education policy at Catholic schools in Yukon, agreed to remove the document from Vanier Catholic Secondary’s website.
“Both [Kent] and the bishop could agree immediately that the most important thing was that students felt safe, welcome and protected in school,” cabinet communications director Matthew Grant says. “The minister requested that an actual policy be developed around the particular issue in question, something developed on the grassroots level with students, parents and members of the school council.”
The document, titled “Living with Hope, Ministering by Love, Teaching in Truth,” was developed by Gordon as a resource for Catholic schools and pastoral staff. It calls upon educators to help queer youth avoid involvement in a “gay culture opposed to the Church’s teaching, with its often aggressive and immoral lifestyle.”
The document is still available on Vanier’s website. Grant says that it will likely be removed at the earliest possible opportunity, noting that schools are currently on spring break.
He says that work needs to be done to bridge the gap between the religious document and the Department of Education’s policy on gender identity and sexual orientation. That policy, which was adopted in September 2012, requires schools to provide a safe and supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, queer and questioning people.
Grant confirms that the policy applies to all publicly funded schools, including the Catholic schools. With the exception of the French secondary school, Yukon does not have school boards. Instead, Yukon’s 28 public schools, which include three separate Catholic schools, are administered by the territorial government with the assistance of elected school councils, which advise the minister. Both public and Catholic schools in Yukon receive all their funding from the government.
A gay student at Vanier, who says that school administrators have thwarted his attempts to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA), hopes that any policy developed for his school will be consistent with the sexual orientation and gender identity policy and will direct teachers and administrators to be more supportive of queer students.
“We were not allowed to have a GSA because the principal and bishop did not want us to be able to use the words ‘GLBT’ on school property,” says Grade 11 student Liam Finnegan. “The school itself is a very loving and friendly community because it’s very small. It has 300 to 400 students and we are all there for everyone, and we all know each other and try to be nice to each other. I hope that any new policy would encourage this and support those who are struggling or gay and out, because I know how that feels and have friends who know how that feels.”
He notes that the bishop and the school council did offer to create a group called One Heart that would teach about homosexuality from the perspective of the church. Finnegan says that acceptance of gay issues has “gone downhill” at Vanier ever since Shara Layne, who was a Grade 11 student there, had her locker vandalized with homophobic graffiti.
“I went to the principal of the school and told him that someone carved ‘faggot’ on my locker,” recalls Layne, who has since withdrawn from the school as a result of the stress and isolation that she says was brought on by unsupportive teachers and administrators. “He laughed at first and asked, ‘Why does this matter?’ I told him, ‘I’m a lesbian,’ and then he said, ‘I’ll talk to the janitor, but I’m not going to do anything about it,’” Layne says. “There was no investigation or anything into what happened.”
Layne says that prior to this school year, most of the teachers were either supportive or tolerant of her decision to come out and did not enforce the bishop’s teachings on homosexuality. She notes, however, that this year the school hired new teachers who, she says, have openly told classes that being gay is wrong.
Finnegan currently participates in the GSA at FH Collins Secondary, a public school in Whitehorse, and will be part of the Yukon delegation at OutShine, Canada’s first national GSA summit, which takes place in Toronto in May.
Christine Klaassen-St Pierre, FH Collins’s vice-principal and GSA teacher-sponsor, says that efforts to support a queer-positive environment in public schools were bolstered by the sexual orientation and gender identity policy.
“I think it’s a great policy; it really gives me a lot of backing to support queer and questioning youth at school,” she adds.
In that policy, the department states that it will not tolerate any homophobic bullying or behaviour and that school policies must include procedures to deal with those situations.
“It also talks about supporting queer and questioning youth and says that not only do we support youth and make sure they are protected and they can be themselves to their fullest at school, but also we aren’t going to council them out of that. And if a school wants a GSA, the faculty will provide support and help them create that,” Klaassen-St Pierre says.
Xtra’s attempts to reach Gordon were unsuccessful by press time.