Saturday, March 19, 2011
Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) have been a hot topic in Ontario ever since news came out that the Halton District Catholic School Board bans the groups in their schools. It was later discovered that the same was true of all Catholic boards in Ontario, and since then, numerous news outlets have picked up both the Halton story, as well as the larger issue. Because Catholic schools receive funding from taxpayers in Ontario, the idea that these boards have policies that go against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- as well as the Ontario Human Rights Code -- is especially appalling.
Rather than back down in the face of intolerance, some brave students have rallied in support of the cause. In particular, Xtra.ca reports that 32 students are trying to start a GSA at St. Joseph's Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario (which, coincidentally, neighbors the Halton Region). When 16-year-old Leanne Iskander asked her principal, Frances Jacques, to recognize the GSA as an official group, her request was firmly denied. And just like that, the fight was on.
“We’re not going to give up,” Iskander said to Xtra. “We’re going to keep trying to get a GSA. This is very important. Gay kids feel alienated and need a place with a sense of community.”
Adding even more salt to the wound, the principal told Iskander that a GSA was premature for her age. She was also told that guidance counselors are there to provide support for gay students. Never mind that the school -- and, I assume, the guidance counselors -- practice teachings that maintain that homosexuality is a sin.
The students have mobilized, starting a Facebook group and writing a letter to the principal reminding her of their right to equality. They have also managed to score the support of seven teachers. However, no teacher seems to be willing to stand up to the principal on the issue.
And here's where things start to go from your standard religious intolerance to extra offensive homophobia: Frances Jacques, the high school principal, responded to calls for a GSA by handing teachers pamphlets to Courage International, an organization to counsel gay people on living chastely and abstaining from queer sexual desires.
“That’s her idea of offering support,” an anonymous teacher said in Xtra. “It’s unbelievable. This pamphlet is also in the guidance offices for students. I can’t believe this is a publicly funded system and they are getting away with this.”
If the Catholic schools in Ontario are not going to create equality for all students, they should not be receiving tax dollars, plain and simple. If you believe that all of Ontario's kids - even the Catholic, LGBT ones -- deserve a safe space, please sign our petition, which you can find here.
Brandon Miller is a freelance writer and editor from Toronto, Ontario.