AN OPEN LETTER TO THE TRUSTEES, DIRECTORS OF EDUCATION AND STAFF OF THE ONTARIO CATHOLIC SCHOOL BOARDS
Dear Catholic school boards of Ontario,
We are writing to you in our capacity as the representatives of the more than half a million students in Catholic school boards throughout the province. Our purpose is to highlight the persistence of homophobia and anti-2SLGBTQ+ incidents in Catholic schools across Ontario and to present concrete proposals for dealing with this urgent and destructive problem.
The Accepting Schools Act, 2012, sets a foundation for student success within our boards, promoting an environment where students can express themselves without fear of discrimination. However, it has become clear to OSTA that, based on overwhelming student concern expressed online in recent years, many 2SLGBTQ+ students feel unsafe and unwelcome because of the discrimination they experience in Catholic schools.
The Accepting Schools Act calls on educators to prevent homophobia and transphobia in classrooms, but Catholic schools continue to follow curriculum that undermine that legislated mandate. A case in point is the “Fully Alive” program, which requires students to “examine the meaning of true love between a man and a woman” as it states, “God created us to live in relationship as males and females…” (Grade 8 Fully Alive Program, theme 3 page 68) Not only do such lessons confuse and harm non-heterosexual students, by devaluing their own identity and self-worth, they are in direct conflict with the teachings of love, respect, and acceptance so central to the Catholic faith and the Church.
As Catholics, we all understand that the Church’s teachings are more than just the Catechism – they are from Jesus Christ, who valued the dignity of each and every human person above all. To Jesus, there were no exceptions to being deemed worthy of God’s love. For decades, there has been tension surrounding Catholic identity and anti-homophobic education in Catholic schools; this cannot continue to exist in our school communities. Even if the language or concept of 2SLGBTQ+ support is new to an individual, the practice of inclusion is not.
Creating safe spaces for 2SLGBTQ+ students must be a priority in education. Catholic school boards have the opportunity to acknowledge the wrongdoings in the treatment of the 2SLBGTQ+ community, and students deserve to see them address the history of abuse and move forward in solidarity with OSTA-AECO’s guidance and support.
Catholic school boards must join the movement to keep 2SLGBTQ+ students safe in Catholic schools. Homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination towards members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community are detrimental to the mental and physical well-being of 2SLGBTQ+ youth. Catholic schools must do more to support and care for these students so that no child is harmed as a result of inaction.
The Ontario Student Trustees’ Association is calling on Catholic school boards across the province to support and protect 2SLGBTQ+ students by implementing the following:
- Acknowledge June as Pride Month and fly the Pride flag or another 2SLGBTQ+ community-approved flag at the Catholic Education Centre and all schools within the board during the month.
- Establish a 2SLGBTQ+ Advisory Committee to deal with matters pertaining to the community and work towards an inclusive environment.
- Provide dedicated community and mental health resources for 2SLGBTQ+ students in schools and on the board website. This could be done through consultations with 2SLGBTQ+ organizations to provide them.
- Provide specific supports for two-spirit students with Indigenous consultation, to address the Church’s historic abuse of Indigenous children.
- Include the identities of 2SLGBTQ+ students within board surveys and registration to uphold a commitment to inclusion.
These are essential initial steps on the journey of inclusion within Catholic schools. School boards must ensure that there is a continued effort to support and care for 2SLGBTQ+ students and that trustees, educators, and community members listen to their concerns and create more inclusive environments. Each of the recommendations listed has a tangible, direct impact on the well-being of 2SLGBTQ+ students and therefore has the potential to reduce thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts, and self-harm in students that stem from homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of 2SLGBTQ+ discrimination.
The entire school community – not only 2SLGBTQ+ students – would benefit from such an approach. Like other forms of discrimination and hatred, homophobia and transphobia are deeply corrosive to the community at large. They undermine solidarity and eat away at the social fabric and the bonds that unite us. They encourage us to dehumanize one another. They demoralize all students – and educators – as the worst, and not the best, of our community is highlighted.
For decades, Catholic students have been leading the way, fighting for acceptance, respect, and the recognition of the basic rights of 2SLGBTQ+ students. From challenging unfair practices to creating Gender and Sexuality Alliances and equity groups, Catholic students know how critical it is to create school environments where they and their peers feel accepted and supported.
We recognize these gains – and the goodwill from school boards, teachers, administrators, and parents that have gone into them. But if our school communities are to build on these gains, Catholic school boards cannot be passive – they must actively participate in this movement by both acknowledging and addressing the systemic discrimination and challenges that 2SLGBTQ+ students face on a daily basis in our schools. Student leaders will be able to continue their initiatives more effectively with school board support, engaging with more students and staff that need help and learning opportunities.
It is not enough to merely say that school boards do not condone discrimination and hatred towards the 2SLGBTQ+ community, as this is clearly outlined in the Ontario Human Rights Code. Catholic school boards in Ontario must commit to taking action and implementing change to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring that their students feel loved, respected, and safe. OSTA invites Catholic school boards to engage by acknowledging the existing concerns and committing to the five recommendations we have provided.
Yours in Catholic education,
Keith Baybayon, OSTA-AECO President
Sydney Yott, Catholic Board Council President
Declan Amaral, Catholic Board Council Vice-President
Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA)
Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA)
Catholic Principals Council of Ontario (CPCO)
Ontario Catholic Supervisory Officers’ Association (OCSOA)