Gay-straight alliance ban lifted

On January 18, the Halton Catholic District School Board voted to strike down a ban on gay-straight alliances in schools. After criticism from media and various action groups, the board’s Policy Development Committee recommended the ban be overturned.

The ban, along with policy amendments to adjust curriculum on healthy sexuality, had been passed in a board meeting on November 2, 2010. Board members agreed that gay-straight alliance groups promote unhealthy tendencies and an unacceptable lifestyle.

Earlier in the year, the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops of Ontario, the organization that makes recommendations based on religious doctrine to Catholic school boards in Ontario, advised the HCDSB that gay-straight alliance groups enforce self-identification and violate the privacy of homosexual students.

“I’ve never been to a GSA,” said board trustee Jane Michael. “They force people to be labelled as gay, and that could be detrimental to those people at that school.”

The ACBO argues that to allow gay-straight alliance groups would be to encourage a sexual orientation that is “premature”. Catholic school board policies permit romantic relationships between heterosexual couples as they allow students to develop toward healthy marriages. In contrast, secondary school students are considered too young to pursue homosexual relationships.

“The church teachings teach our children to accept everyone, whether they’re gay or lesbian, poor, black, white, whatever,” said Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association. “But the church teaching also says that we don’t condone the actions of gays and lesbians.” Quite the conundrum.

Sarah Kelly, a master’s of teaching student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, started a Facebook group, “Fight the Halton Catholic Board’s ban on Gay Straight Alliances”. In two weeks, the online petition has generated 3,000 signatures.

“In particular, when it comes to matters of faith and morality, the aforementioned denominational rights accorded to Catholic schools in Ontario would supersede Ministry of Education proposed curriculum content,” said Lou Piovesan, the general secretary of the ACBO. “Accordingly, if some content (related to faith and morality matters) is indeed determined to be at variance with those principles, it would not be endorsed for use in Catholic schools.”

This is the second time this year that Catholic doctrine has conflicted with policies of equity and safety in Ontario schools. Last year, Catholic schools boards warned that providing the free HPV vaccine would promote promiscuity.

“That’s the rights of the Catholic schools,” said Alice Anne LeMay, the board chair. “We have denominational rights and our rights say we will not do anything against magisterial of the Catholic Church.”

After nearly two weeks of public scrutiny and media attention, the ban was overturned in a vote of 6-2. The board meeting was attended by many who opposed the ban, including members of the Canadian Civil Liberties Union.

“As a new trustee, I must represent the big picture, which means all students must be able to attend school without fear,” said trustee John Mark Rowe.

Jane Michael, a new trustee, one of the two that voted against lifting the ban, argued that Catholic doctrine takes precedence over homosexual lifestyle.

The HCDSB insists that trustees will always act in the best interest of the students. On the HCDSB website, officials commented in a press release that, despite the ban, Catholic schools in the Halton region uphold values that promote safety and acceptance of all students.

  • Anonymous

    This article lacks the strong liberal bias I’ve come to expect from the medium. It seems to try too hard to be impartial and in doing so has the potential to offend a portion of the audience.

    I never thought I would see the words homosexual “lifestyle” published in the medium and certainly not from a Women’s center coordinator. The article includes a half dozen arguments supporting the ban, but none of the dozen more available that justified it’s repel.

    Sorry Stefanie, but this article is a real disappointment.

  • Healthy

    Yeah Stefanie, be more biased, the medium is no place for responsible and balanced journalism.

    In all seriousness, that’s exactly how you SHOULD be reporting on issues. Leaving your own feelings out and getting both sides, good for you and keep it up!

  • Anonymous

    Where is the other side? All I see is the reasons in defense of the ban.

  • Stefanie Marotta

    Thank you Healthy.

  • Stefanie Marotta

    Anonymous, I want to point out a few things that I did consciously while writing the article:

    “I’ve never been to a GSA,” said board trustee Jane Michael. “They force people to be labelled as gay, and that could be detrimental to those people at that school.”
    –I included this quote because the trustee says that she’s never attended a GSA yet she makes a claim on what affect the groups could have. Should she do a little more research before supporting the ban?

    “The church teachings teach our children to accept everyone, whether they’re gay or lesbian, poor, black, white, whatever,” said Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association. “But the church teaching also says that we don’t condone the actions of gays and lesbians.”
    –I included this quote to show the argument for the ban while at the same time showing how their policies seem to contradict themselves.

    “In particular, when it comes to matters of faith and morality, the aforementioned denominational rights accorded to Catholic schools in Ontario would supersede Ministry of Education proposed curriculum content,” said Lou Piovesan, the general secretary of the ACBO. “Accordingly, if some content (related to faith and morality matters) is indeed determined to be at variance with those principles, it would not be endorsed for use in Catholic schools.”
    –I included this quote because it asks an important question— In a secular state, should denominational rights supersede government policies? (Such as those concerning equity)

    “That’s the rights of the Catholic schools,” said Alice Anne LeMay, the board chair. “We have denominational rights and our rights say we will not do anything against magisterial of the Catholic Church.”
    –I included this quote because it conveys the argument in favour of the ban. Then…

    “As a new trustee, I must represent the big picture, which means all students must be able to attend school without fear,” said trustee John Mark Rowe.
    –I included this quote because it makes a case against the ban.

    It is not my place to blatantly make an argument in a news article. I tried to write impartially to explain the situation and then include quotes that show both sides of the argument. I wanted to provoke questions for the readers, not answer those questions myself.

    Also, Women’s Centre Coordinator and Assistant News Editor are positions that entail very different responsibilities. One should not impact the other. When I write for The Medium, I write as an impartial student—as it should be.

    I hope this cleared some things up for you. Since you know that I’m a UTMWC Coordinator, I invite you to come by our office. Sincerely, I’d love to hear your opinions.