A story from London, England, offers a model of how Catholic schools and LGBT-rights group can help each other out, all to the students’ benefit.
London’s Evening Standard reports that Sarah Crouch, headteacher of St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Wimbledon, invited Stonewall, the United Kingdom’s premier LGBT-rights group, to give the school’s teachers a lesson in how to eliminate homophobic bullying. Crouch said:
“We want to give our staff the tools to know what to do should an incident of homophobic bullying occur…It is important that children know it is not OK to use the word gay in a derogatory way.”
This positive action was not without controversy, however, as some people felt it was inappropriate for a Catholic school to bring in advisers from the LGBT community. The Standard reports:
“Antonia Tully, national coordinator of the Safe at School campaign, said: ‘Many parents will be very concerned that a gay rights organisation is considered to be an appropriate source of advice on how to deal with children using inappropriate language in the playground.
“ ‘If a primary school takes on Stonewall’s agenda, young children will be exposed to homosexual issues, which they are too young to understand properly. Parents expect a school to provide an education, not subject their children to gay propaganda.’ ”
But Tully’s comments, exaggeratedly alarmist, ignore the facts of this case:
“Ms Crouch said that children were not involved in the training, which was carried out for teachers on one day in September.
“She added that Stonewall’s programme was tailored specifically for the Catholic school and did not mention same sex relationships or gay marriage. It concentrated on how teachers should tackle incidents of homophobic bullying.”
Boston’s Edge newspaper notes that the program, in fact, was approved by the local diocese:
“The authorities of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark and all but one of the governors approved the event. Now, St. Mary’s stands as the first and only Catholic primary school to be listed as a Stonewall ‘Primary School of Champion’ of gay equality.”
Headteacher Crouch affirmed the goodness of the program presented and that it synchronized with the school’s Catholic tradition:
“As a school, and as Catholics, we are opposed to prejudice of any kind and felt it was important to tackle the issue of homophobic language and bullying.
“The training was very successful and we feel confident that if any incidents occur our staff have the means to address them appropriately.”
Such an example deserves wide circulation as a model of how Catholic schools can be taking steps to eliminate homophobic bullying. Ms. Crouch and St. Mary’s school show that concern for their students was able to outweigh any sensitivity about church and secular politics. Their example of pragmatic partnering is one that principals–and bishops–should emulate.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry