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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 22nd, 2011
Open Letter to Min. Dombrowsky re: GSAs in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board
The Hon. Leona Dombrowsky
Dear Minister Dombrowsky,
Egale Canada is Canada's lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirited, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) human rights organization: advancing equality, diversity, education, and justice. Through our Safe Schools Campaign, we are committed to supporting LGBTQ youth, youth perceived as LGBTQ, youth with LGBTQ parents, other family members, and friends as well as educators, librarians, guidance counsellors, education support workers, parents, and administrators and to helping make Canadian schools safer and more inclusive, respectful, and welcoming learning and working environments for all members of school communities.
According to Egale's report Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools (2011),
Unfortunately, because Catholic school boards abstained from participating in the survey, there are no specific findings about school climates for LGBTQ youth, youth perceived as LGBTQ, and youth with LGBTQ parents, other family members, and friends in Catholic schools in Canada:
One way that this seems to be the case in Ontario is the explicit or implicit bans some Catholic schools and school boards have against students forming Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs). Every class in every school defines GSAs in the following way:
One of the recommendations coming out of Every class in every school is "That schools strongly support the efforts of students to start GSAs, or similar LGBTQ-inclusive student-led clubs, and that in schools where students have not come forward, administration should ask teachers to offer to work with students to start such clubs. It is not safe to assume that LGBTQ students and students with LGBTQ parents would prefer to go through school isolated from their peers and teachers." (For more information on the First National School Climate Survey, see MyGSA.ca/YouthSpeakUp.)
On Oct. 19, 2009, Ontario's Ministry of Education issued a policy in support of GSAs: Policy/Program Memorandum No. 145, Progressive Discipline and Promoting Positive Student Behaviour states, "Boards must also help school staff to give support to students who wish to participate in gay-straight alliances and in other student-led activities that promote understanding and development of healthy relationships."
Amidst the clamour about the fact that a number of Catholic school boards in Ontario-including the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB)-are flagrantly disregarding the Ministry of Education's mandate regarding supporting GSAs in all publicly funded schools, during yesterday's Question Period Premier McGuinty openly stated that "boards can find different ways to ensure that they adhere to those policies."
What the DPCDSB is actually doing, however, not only contravenes this particular policy, but also blatantly violates the province's Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy of which Premier McGuinty is so proud, and deservedly so. For example, its Vision is "To achieve an equitable and inclusive school climate, school boards and schools will strive to ensure that all members of the school community feel safe, comfortable, and accepted. We want all staff and students to value diversity and to demonstrate respect for others and a commitment to establishing a just, caring society."
Premier McGuinty further stated, "In grade 5, students are taught that homophobic and racist remarks are wrong and hurtful. In grade 7, students are taught the importance of challenging others whose actions or words could be interpreted as being racist or homophobic." Perhaps someone needs to repeat these grades because the DPCDSB is both disallowing GSAs and endorsing Courage Toronto, a group that pathologizes same-sex attraction.
In a public statement about Courage International (of which Courage Toronto is one of six Canadian chapters), 16 year-old Leanne Iskander, the student who was denied her request to start a GSA at St. Joseph's Catholic Secondary School in the DPCDSB, said, "I find that website kind of offensive because they are the opposite of supportive-they try and cure you of your homosexuality. The Catholic Church is totally outdated on this."
Courage International is based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and applies them to being LGBTQ, which it archaically calls the generally offensive term "homosexuality" instead. As such, the "Twelve Steps of Courage" begins, "We admitted that we were powerless over homosexuality and our lives had become unmanageable." It continues with references to "the exact nature of our wrongs," "defects of our character," "shortcomings," "persons we had harmed," and, notably, a restoration of "sanity."
This is problematic in so many ways, especially with regard to the implication that LGBTQ youth are not sane. And yet this group is being recommended as a suitable alternative to forming GSAs to youth who are approaching their administrators out of a need for support and acceptance because they either are LGBTQ or have loved ones who are LGBTQ.
Further, Courage International not only provides a link to NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), but it also devotes a section to NARTH's publication "Living in Truth: A Research Report about Psychological Treatment." Although Courage International claims not to be an "Ex-Gay Ministry" (because "Many Courage members have never labelled themselves 'gay' prior to coming to Courage," according to its Frequently Asked Questions), the NARTH publication page opens with the following statement:
This NARTH publication was released in 1997-24 years after the American Psychiatric Association removed "homosexuality" from its list of mental disorders and 15 years after the Canadian Psychiatric Association did the same. The World Health Organization followed suit in 1990 in the 10th version of the International Classification of Diseases, known as the ICD-10. In fact, the claims being put forward by NARTH about "homosexuality" inspired the American Psychological Association (APA) to make this public statement in 2006:
One of the supposedly suitable alternatives being suggested by administrators to Catholic students wanting to form GSAs is to go to an organization that espouses information that has been discredited due to the fact that it promotes prejudice and discrimination.
Not only does this go against Ontario's Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy, it also contradicts the DPCDSB's own policy.
Although the DPCDSB's Equity and Inclusive Education Policy was unavailable via the Safe Schools section of their website when this went to press, the DPCDSB has a Bullying Prevention Policy (last revised Jan. 26, 2010) that explicitly includes both sexual orientation and gender identity in the following statement:
The fact that the DPCDSB is disallowing GSAs and promoting Courage International conflicts with this DPCDSB policy statement in two ways:
Egale's report Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools states the following about GSAs: "Students from schools with GSAs are much more likely to agree that their school communities are supportive of LGBTQ people, are much more likely to be open with some or all of their peers about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and are more likely to see their school climate as becoming less homophobic."
Madam Minister, take pride in your exemplary Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy and its supporting policies by showing a principled stance and fully implementing them in all of Ontario's publicly-funded schools.
Egale Canada ©2011