Catholic schools in Ontario are continuing to fight gay-straight alliances from forming, despite pleas from students to allow them.
GSAs are an effective means of reducing homophobic bullying, improving student safety and decreasing the number of gay teen suicides. For this reason, the Ontario Ministry of Education has strongly recommended that all publicly funded schools include GSAs if the students request one. This recommendation is meant to include the Catholic school system which, despite being a religious organisation, is still publicly funded.
Understanding that outright bans on GSAs generate bad press, however, Catholic schools have begun adopting a new strategy to avoid acknowledging their GLBT students. When requested by students to allow the formation of a GSA, these schools launch a replacement club: One that teaches about all kinds of tolerance and diversity instead of focusing on gay issues.
Gosh that sounds just lovely and—RUN, KIDS! It’s a trap!
You see, rather than accept the most effective means to increase student safety for GLBT students, these ostensibly inclusive groups just re-enforce the discrimination that makes gay students feel so isolated in the first place.
At a GSA meeting in Mississauga, for example, the school’s principal entered unexpectedly and drew a big umbrella on the chalkboard to indicate that their club will have to talk about issues that affect everyone instead of homophobia, effectively silencing the entire school’s GLBT student body. Separately, and more troublingly, training documents for the Halton Catholic School Board’s new GSA replacement called “SIDE spaces,” declares that “gay is not an identity,” and that gay students are “immoral and sinful.”
Most of these kinds of stories aren’t even making it to the media. I’ve now received several emails from students across the country who have had their requests for a GSA turned down. An email I received just yesterday from an Ontario student highlights exactly the same sort of ineffective replacement club that these schools are foisting upon students to silence them:
Our school’s nun decided to be our [GSA] leader, but we had to change the name of the group to be inclusive of all aspects of discrimination.
Project CAT (Project Creating Awareness Together) was what our GSA became. That would have been totally fine with me, had it not been obvious that we weren’t to speak too much about homophobia in the group.
SIDE spaces, Project CAT, and large umbrellas. I could be greatly mistaken here, but something tells me this isn’t quite what the students had in mind when they requested the formation of a GSA.
The good news, though, is that students are fighting for safety, visibility, and inclusion. I like the way that Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, the program director for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, put it: “This issue is not going away,” she told the Halton Catholic School Board during their April 5th board meeting. “Students are empowered. Students know their rights. Students want gay-positive groups in their schools, and they will fight for them.”
Students are already proving Noa right. So, if you’re hoping to get a GSA formed in your school, keep fighting for it! Government organisations such as the Ontario Ministry of Education is on your side, and as long as you guys know your rights and keep up the pressure, these schools will eventually have to comply with their recommendations if they want to keep their public funding.