The community I love has been engaged in emotional debate for the last several weeks over the treatment of gay students in our Catholic schools. There have been protests, meetings, letters to the editors and calls to radio hosts. Discussions have centered on whether a publicly funded school administration can be permitted to openly and actively encourage discrimination against some of its students.
The Bishop in charge of the school’s religious education program and guiding principles has published a document which was, until recently, posted on the school’s website. This document acts as a guide for teachers and school administration on homosexuality and the treatment of homosexual students. It calls homosexual urges a “disorder” and labels homosexual acts an “intrinsic moral evil.” The Bishop said that teachers are discouraged from using words like “gay,” and “lesbian,” and that a Gay-Straight Alliance isn’t allowed at the school. A side effect of this policy has been plummeting morale amongst the school’s staff and students. Another impact, of course, is a sense of impunity for those keen to demonize young people who have identified as gay, or even those who just “seem gay”.
This is all happening at the same time as the flood of equality messages and images, the anticipated decision to strike down Prop 8, the chorus of voices growing louder and louder reminding us that we are not allowed to teach children to hate… and yet, it’s still happening.
This is Canada. I know that in the US there are different ways of doing things, churches have different and perhaps greater powers than in Canada, but here, we separate church and state. If taxes are being used to fund a school, it has to teach in accordance with the laws of the land.
If you want an entirely faith based curriculum, then open a charter school. Charge tuition. Do not depend on the public purse.
I say all this, and even so… my daughter is enrolled in this school. Two of my three children have attended this high school. Confused? Yes, me too. My upbringing was Catholic, my husband’s Anglican, but neither of us are practicing, and we are not religious people. I have had occasional bursts of interest in attending church, but will confess the interest was largely social and based in a desire to create structure and community for my family.
When it was time for my kids to start school, the options were the nearest public school (at the time a poorly performing, underachieving school), french immersion (not our choice) or the Catholic school. The Catholic school had a wonderful principal, great morale, high achieving students, an inclusive philosophy and felt loving, warm and wonderful, so we chose it for our children. Until very recently, the high school had the same warm and welcoming energy. That changed with leadership changes in the school and in the church community.
As a result, gay students are now being targeted. In one case, a locker was spray painted with the word FAG. The principal refused to investigate or seek to remedy the situation in any way. The newly “out” student was told if she didn’t like it, she could always change schools. So she did. And then, as these things do, it all went public. And things have started to change, in a hurry.
I believe churches can teach what they believe. People can attend the church that best suits their belief system. Do I believe it’s okay to preach hate? Do I believe it’s okay to sanction looking the other way when acts of violence are perpetrated based on hatred? No. I understand that it’s a Catholic church, and the Catholic church does not support homosexuality or agree with same sex marriage. Fair enough. They don’t support pre-marital sex either, or birth control, but if a teenage girl gets pregnant, she is treated with compassion and respect while a homosexual student is not offered the same respect, or any reasonable protection from discrimination.
I know several gay teachers within the Catholic schools in our city. We have, in our family, long questioned the morality of practicing a way of life in secret while teaching your students that your own way of life is wrong…is an intrinsic moral evil. That, to me, is a hypocrisy so damaging it defies understanding.
Now, the government has stepped in and advised the school their policy must change, MUST align with Human Rights legislation in our Territory. The offensive policy has been removed from the school’s website.
But the young woman whose locker was spray painted, her dignity was rejected, her very self was dismissed and that’s not going to go away because a website administrator took a policy offline. And the other kids who have suffered similar insult and assault in that school, with the pervasive disregard for the rights of every single one of its students will not feel less harmed because now, finally, the policy is changing. And what about the kids who have been allowed to think that gay bashing, even in its more subtle forms, is okay? Who’s going to go in and reprogram them?