One little-known feature of Canadian life is that, because of the communal (religious, ethnic) hostilities which tore apart the Province of Canada, several Canadian provinces still possess separate schools, publically funded Roman Catholic school boards guaranteed by the British North America Act of 1867 that created Canada in the first place. Ontario has one of these school systems, and the Halton Catholic District School Board is a local board for a suburban area in the west of the Greater Toronto Area.
The separate school system in Ontario has its issues. Some would like to extend the model to support other faith groups; some would like to get rid of it altogether. And some find that the school system, with its necessarily strong adherence to the Roman Catholic Church’s magisterium, is unresponsive to their needs. A recent story in Toronto queer paper Xtra! regarding the Halton board’s hostility to gay-straight alliance groups made this clear.
With the world’s spotlight on the It Gets Better campaign and gay teen suicides, the urgency for schools to create gay-straight alliance (GSA) groups seems obvious.
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.”
[. . .]
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.”
The outpouring of broad public support to this decision–not least the implicit comparison of gay-straight alliances to Nazi groups–has been gratifying. To speak only of the press, a local paper criticized the ban as likely to lead to the stigmatization of non-heterosexual students, the casual reader could find an editorial in the Hamilton Spectator by a gay Catholic explaining his issues, and the national press included an editorial in the Globe and Mail stating forthrightly that discrimination against gay teens was unacceptable and that for the board to support this threatened its public support. And in the end, the board ended up dropping the ban, opting to reconsider this.
What does this all mean? Well, it gets better. In a large and growing part of the world, homophobia has become unacceptable, partly as a consequence of a critical mass of people coming out at earlier and earlier ages as in-person and on-line infrastructures expand. Most people like to think of themselves as good people, I’d wager, and don’t like the idea that other people should be made to suffer needlessly, like the way they themselves may have suffered. This is especially true, I think, for people that they themselves know. It’s somewhat like the explanation for the combination of American religious devotion with religious toleration that Matt Warren blogged about at The Long Game.
How is it that Americans can combine their devotion, their diversity and their tolerance? The answer, we suggest, is your Aunt Susan. Who is your Aunt Susan? Aunt Susan is that relative of yours — we all have one — who is the sweetest, kindest, nicest person you know. Aunt Susan is the one who brings the casseroles to people when they’re sick. She’s the one you call when you’re in trouble.
But your Aunt Susan, or whoever your Aunt Susan might be — in my case, it’s actually Uncle Harry — your Aunt Susan is of another religion. And your religion, you know, teaches you, theologically, she’s not supposed to be able to go to heaven. But you know that if there’s anybody who’s destined for heaven, it’s Aunt Susan. Heaven was made for Aunt Susan. And when faced with that choice between Aunt Susan and their theology, most Americans choose Aunt Susan.
Speaking for myself, it’s nice when people choose for the side of humanity. I can’t wait for the time when I can expect this as a matter of course.