Wednesday 16 March 2011

The Halton Catholic School Board: a "gay" anachronism

Stolen from Bob at "I Should Be Laughing"
I grew up in the 50s and 60s. Oddly enough, there were no gay people living at that time. Everyone was heterosexual. Yes, there were some rumours floating around, but there was never any proof.

In 1996, I said good-bye to an old high school buddy who was dying of AIDS. I had no idea, not a single one during the thirty years I had known him. We had partied together, drank a few kegs of beer, and talked about chicks. We went our separate ways. He got married, had kids, but still...

What was it like? How could I possibly imagine growing up in a world where not only were you totally alone, the rest of the world despised what you were trying to grapple with? In my blog I suck; you suck; we all suck. What!?!, I talk about the origin of the phrase "that sucks" and how at one point of my life, the greatest insult one guy could give another was to insinuate that he was queer. In face of such a barrage of negativity about homosexuality, just how did my high school buddy feel?

I have thought a great deal of my friend over these past 15 plus years. High school is the true beginning of our social interactions; it is when we figure out who we are and how we fit in with the rest of the world. Feeling apart, alone, ostracised by the crowd, are the sentiments of everyone running this gauntlet and we collectively could do a better job than our parents of ensuring that no one is left out in the cold. Life is tough enough without being considered "different".

The Halton Catholic School Board
Following the Catholic Church, HCSB has been running its organisation with policies which do not necessarily reflect the current consensus of opinion in the greater, non denominational world. While it is trying to show itself to be inclusive - after all, one of its trustees, Paul Marai is a self-declared homosexual - it has not necessarily set up standards which match the intend of an inclusive society.

Wikipedia definition: LGBT
LGBT (or GLBT) is an initialism used since the 1990s as a self-designation by what was formerly known as the "gay community". It refers collectively to "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender" people.

definition: Gay-straight alliance
Gay–straight alliances are student organizations, found primarily in North American high schools and universities, that are intended to provide a safe and supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth and their straight allies (LGBTA).

Wikipedia definition: Straight ally
Straight ally is a colloquial term that describes a heterosexual person who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBTQ social movements, and challenges institutional homophobia and interpersonal homophobia alike. A straight ally recognizes that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people suffer discrimination and thus are socially disadvantaged. Straight allies aims to use their privileged position as straight people in a homophobic society to ally themselves with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people in fighting homophobia and heteronormativity. Usually, a straight ally is inclusive of various diversity, and may have many gay and lesbian friends. Some organizations, such as gay-straight alliances often consist predominantly of straight ally members.

We always come back to Hitler
HCSB banned gay-straight alliances. On January 6, 2011, Xtra! magazine, a publication offering "Canada's Gay & Lesbian News", wrote:

But while the Ontario Ministry of Education thinks GSAs are important, the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) takes a different view. The HCDSB feels the groups are harmful and has issued a ban on GSAs altogether.

"We don’t have Nazi groups either," rationalizes board chair Alice Anne LeMay. "Gay-straight alliances are banned because they are not within the teachings of the Catholic Church."

"If a gay student requests a gay-straight alliance they would be denied," she says flatly. "It’s not in accordance with the teachings of the church. If they wanted to have a club outside of school, fine, just not in school."

Needless to say, this comparison to Nazis generated quite a bit of flak for both the board and LeMay. - Aside: In my blog We always come back to Hitler, I talk of how Hitler and Nazi comparisons come up more frequently than we think and how something called "Godwin's Law" postulates that as discussions grow longer, the probability of somebody making such a comparison increases in likelihood. It's quite serious but it can also be quite funny. Usually because the person using the comparison is, well, not fully appreciating the ramifications of such allusions.

Retraction and next step
On January 7, 2011, HCSB published on its web site this retraction / apology:

With regards to recent media reports and concerns received by the Board today, Alice Anne LeMay, Chair, Halton Catholic District School Board states, "It is unfortunate that the comments I made were taken out of context, and I apologize for the words that I used and the offense that was caused. It was not my intent to make any type of comparison between gay straight alliances and Nazi groups. Rather, I was providing a number of examples of groups that are not endorsed and permitted in Halton Catholic schools, for example, groups in favour of abortion or hate groups of any nature. I did not make a direct comparison between gay straight alliances and any of these groups, nor was that my intent."

On January 18, 2011, HCSB rescinded its policy which banned on gay-straight alliances:

"The Trustees of our Board have decided to adopt the OESC’s Catholic template policy as an interim measure, because it better reflects the intent and objectives of the newly elected Board. The Equity and Inclusive Education Policy, as written and approved in November, 2010, was too restrictive and narrow in focus, and the Board’s decision to rescind the policy, which included a ban on Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs), is based on this acknowledgement," explains Chair of the Board Alice Anne LeMay. "As a Catholic school system that teaches the respect, dignity and love of all people, we take seriously our faith-directed and legislated responsibilities to provide safe, equitable and inclusive school environments."

Or did it? The Catholic template policy says in section 4, Inclusive Curriculum and Assessment Practices, Preamble:

Both in its content and methodology, inclusive curriculum seeks to recognize our commitment to Catholic values and to affirm the life experiences of all students, regardless of race and ethnicity, gender, place of origin, religion, cultural and linguistic background, social and economic status, sexual orientation, age, and ability/disability.

It then goes on to state under its Mission Statement:

The Board is committed to implementing an inclusive curriculum based on Catholic values and to reviewing resources, instruction, and assessment and evaluation practices in order to identify and address discriminatory biases so that each student may maximize her or his learning potential.

Under section 6, School Climate and the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment, preamble:

The Board recognizes that a safe and welcoming environment is most conducive to learning. The Board will therefore seek to foster a Christ-centred, positive school climate, free from discriminatory or harassing behaviour. The Board acknowledges that a Christ-centered, positive school climate is one where all members of the school community feel safe, welcomed, and accepted. The principles of equity and inclusive education support positive student behaviour. The principles of equity and inclusion are consistent with Catholic doctrine and must be considered and applied in employing progressive disciplinary measures, particularly when it is necessary to take into account mitigating and other factors. (See Pastoral Guidelines for Students of Same Sex Orientation in the Administrative Procedure VI-54 "Equity and Inclusive Education".)

I can't find an online copy of these Pastoral Guidelines, but Xtra! writes: [Found it! see bottom]

...the board has included procedural supports that follow the Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Attraction, a document written by the bishops and used to write the equity policy, as well as training for staff, educators and parents. The document explicitly prohibits gay sexual activity and states that if gays can’t live a "moral life," they must accept "a life of chastity." Sex is only for married straight couples.
Xtra! continues:

"Schools that have GSAs are a lot more open, caring, welcoming and a whole lot safer," says Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, who has been involved in the fight against homophobia and transphobia in schools for the past two years. She is quick to point out that many other Catholic schools in Ontario have GSA groups.

HCSB persists in language which excludes gay-straight alliances by explaining:

Board chair LeMay says Catholic schools have special rights to define religion standards. "That’s the rights of the Catholic schools," she says. "We have denominational rights. And our rights say we will not do anything against magisterial of the Catholic Church."

Ah, we return to the central question. No matter what the province of Ontario may dictate as a policy, the Catholic school is responsible to the Catholic Church which is responsible to the Pope. Do I see my Catholic "auntie" as anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-birth control, and anti-I-don't-know-what-else-to-fit-in-here? LGBT? Let God Be Traditional!

The Global and Mail
The newspaper, in an article of February 15, 2011, summarised HCSB's change in policy:

On paper its ban on gay-straight alliances is lifted, but a new draft inclusion policy by the Halton Catholic District School Board doesn’t allow them either.

Instead, the policy directs students to form groups called SIDE (safety, inclusivity, diversity, equity) spaces, which will be run by staff trained in the guidelines developed by the Institute for Catholic Education "to assist students of same-sex orientation."

The article continues:

A copy of the guidelines, made public by queer newspaper Xtra!, shows a two-pronged approach to dealing with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues in school.

While the document calls on educators to enforce anti-discrimination policies, it also reiterates the church’s official prohibition against sexual activity between two people of the same sex and exhorts teachers to lead "the homosexual student" toward "better sexual morality." It further suggests that "romantic attachments and behaviour" are fully expected of heterosexual couples, but discouraged among gay students.

The Global and Mail points out that Ontario’s Ministry of Education has introduced rules that mandate school boards to implement policies of student inclusion that allow gay and lesbian students to form clubs and support groups. This Catholic school board is not following those rules but has chosen to "interpret" them.

Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, said the board is trying to circumvent the provincial policy by adjusting the language to suit its beliefs. "That’s ridiculous," she says. "That’s like saying drunk-driving laws don’t apply to everyone." (Xtra!)

Sylvie Haché
I just had to throw this one into the mix because it was so odd, so startling.

On February 15 (if I'm reading the sources correctly), HCSB held a meeting open to the public about voting for this change in policy. An outsider by the name of Sylvie Haché was given an opportunity to speak so as to present her argument against an inclusive policy. Xtra! reported:

Sylvie Hache, a self-described "recovering homosexual," spoke at the beginning of the meeting.

The packed gallery sat in stunned silence as she argued that being gay is an addiction, something to be treated and cured, "like drug addiction." She told the board to remove all references to "sexual orientation" because "it is sinful when acted upon."

"The truth from the Bible stated homosexuality as a sinful behaviour equal to, but not any different from, any other sinful or addictive behaviour." Hache added that she would rather see the board establish groups that help students "turn away from that sinful or addictive behaviour," like drug rehabilitation or Alcoholics Anonymous.

Inside Halton added:

Sylvie Haché seemed to stun some in the hushed boardroom when she described how she was gay for 13 years, and was cursed for it, but made a conscious decision to change her lifestyle and benefitted from it.
“I realize society is leading people to believe being a homosexual is not a choice, and that it is discovered. The truth from the Bible states homosexuality is a sinful behaviour equal to, but not any different from other sinful or addictive behaviour.”

A mother of two adult children, Haché said she was a practicing Catholic until about six years ago. Her two children did not go through the Halton Catholic education system.

“I am in total support of any group that is created by the Halton (board) to aid those struggling from homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction, if it is set up and designed as AA would be for alcoholics or a drug rehabilitation centre would be for drug abusers, with the goal to help them turn away from that sinful or addictive behaviour. To suggest that there is no cure for those suffering from homosexual orientation is to cause them to lose hope,” Haché added.

Okay, do I have to say anything at this point? I've read what this woman has said several times and I'm sitting here with my mouth open as in the typical "jaw dropping" moment. Gee, not only has she given up lesbianism, she's given up Catholicism. Has she managed to save herself only to still end up going to hell?

Inside Halton did report on the board's reaction to Ms. Haché's remarks:

Haché’s comment drew an immediate rebuke from board chair LeMay.
“I must say that I personally disagree with you and believe that you do not accurately reflect the teachings of the church on homosexuality,” said LeMay. “To suggest that any student, by virtue of their sexual orientation, is not a child of God, is not the teaching of the Catholic church.”

After the board meeting, Marai commented on Haché’s words.

“It was hurtful, quite frankly. I’m a huge supporter of public discussion about this (issue), but I was hurt by what she said.”

The Catholic church has demonstrated a certain, ah, disapproval for homosexuality. The Friendly Atheist pointed this out and I just had to throw this into the pot.

The Chicago Sun-Times - Mar 2/2011
Judge: Anti-gay shirts worn by Neuqua Valley students OK
An event, promoted by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, intended to draw attention to harassment of homosexuals. A court ruled that other students should be allowed to present an opposing opinion by wearing t-shirts which read, "Be happy, not gay."

I'm sorry; I'm sitting here reading that article laughing out loud. A judge rules that a "school that permits advocacy of the rights of homosexual students cannot be allowed to stifle criticism of homosexuality." Okay, during Black history month, we should allow t-shirts that say, "Go back to Africa". During International Women's Day, we should allow t-shirts that say, "Go back to the kitchen where you belong". For Ramadan, we should allow t-shirts that say, "Happy fasting, Raghead." This is just too absurd. Be happy, not gay? How much more insensitive, confrontational, and critical can anybody be? If you permit such "free speech", you are condoning the ideas. If you condone the ideas, you are condoning hate.

It is surprising. If you don't hate, if you are truly accepting in your heart, you wouldn't dream, no, you would never ever even think of saying such a thing as "Be happy, not gay". Why? Because you wouldn't think of mocking somebody because of being short, or tall, or skinny, or fat, or black, or white, or Muslim, or Jew, or gay. You won't mock somebody because their hair was brown. Why would you? It's just them; it's not anything to mock. It's just brown hair. Big deal. Let's move on to something important.

I get infuriated sometimes because some moron goes off on a tangent about something like black or white, Muslim or Christian, gay or straight when there are a multitude of more important issues to be dealing with. Heck, we have global warming, wars taking place, disease killing millions and some jerk is prejudiced against some group based on colour, sexual orientation or religion? Shaddup!

Final Word
How would my high school buddy have lived his life if he had grown up in a high school that had a gay-straight alliance? Would he have remained in the closet all his life?

In my blog Catholic school disciplines pro-choice student, I talked about the curious situation at a Catholic high school in Thunder Bay where a pro-life group was permitted to demonstrate but a pro-choice girl who wanted to demonstrate her disagreement was sent home. A Catholic school lives by Catholic rules.

I stated then and I will state again here that I do not believe in a separate school board. In Quebec, the Constitution Amendment of 1997 allowed the provincial school boards to be restructured on linguistic lines, rather than on a denominational basis. Instead of public and Catholic, they have French and English. Just imagine that. The province of Quebec, the most Catholic of all of Canada's provinces, no longer has Catholic schools.

Let's have one publicly funded system. Let's make it all inclusive. And that means following provincial rules to allow gay-straight alliances.

Some miscellaneous related links

my blog: Catholic school disciplines pro-choice student

Slap Upside The Head: Combating bigotry the gayest way I know how - Jan 10/2011
Catholic School Board Bans Gay-Straight Alliances
[Anybody who quotes "Springtime For Hitler" has to be included.]

Change.Org - Jan 12/2011
Canadian School Board Member Compares Gay-Straight Alliances to Sex Clubs
Of course, not to be outdone by LeMay's Nazi reference, another member of the Halton Catholic Board took the opportunity last night to weigh in with her thoughts about gay-straight alliances. That would be Jane Michael, who told Xtra that she hopes the gay-straight ban stays in place, because youth groups for LGBT people are nothing more than sex clubs.

"A homosexual lifestyle ... is not in accordance with the Catholic Church," Michael said. "Why can’t heterosexual students have a club? I don’t think sex clubs should be in school."

I Should Be Laughing - Jan 19/2011
The HCDSB Changes It's Tune.....Slightly
[This is Bob's take on the story, but what got me was his graphic. I was looking for something to add a little colour to the article: a gay-straight alliance graphic, the official logo for HCSB perhaps, then Bingo! Bob's the man! I am going to thank him profusely for his amusing creative genius. Or did he get it elsewhere? No matter, I think it captures the moment perfectly.]

UPDATE: An article by Justin Stayshyn and Andrea Houston of Xtra! led me to
Pastoral Guidelines for Students of Same Sex Orientation
[Only a man and a woman can be married. Only a married couple can have sex. Anybody else is chaste. Period.]
Sexual activity is truly meaningful only when it embodies and expresses marital love, love that is both fully committed and open to life, and it cannot do that outside of marriage for anyone, heterosexual or homosexual. This means that sexual activity which is outside marriage cannot be condoned, and is taught by the Church to be immoral. This includes masturbation, fornication and adultery, and sexual activity with a person of the same sex.


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