Catholic educators in Ontario are planning to march in the WorldPride 2014 parade in Toronto, a decision which has drawn criticism from some parents and the local cardinal.
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), a union which represents teachers in Ontario’s Catholic schools, will participate in the June parade as an act of solidarity with the LGBT community. James Ryan, the union’s president, made clear this action was not a protest and said of the teachers’ involvement:
” ‘It was in support of those members in the community who identity as LGBT, to be free from all forms of hatred and discrimination and that alone is what it is for…Our marching is purely on the basis of support in solidarity for people to be free from discrimination.’ “
OECTA represents 45,000 educators in the province’s Catholic schools which receive public funds. The union released a statement on their website that echoed Ryan’s remarks but was more critical of Catholic institutions, saying further:
“There is no doubt that students and teachers in Catholic schools, like other publicly funded schools in Ontario, face bullying and discrimination that sometimes has fatal consequences. Few in our society would disagree that more must be done to change the culture of our schools in order to allow individuals, without exception, to lead healthy lives free of harassment and prejudice
“OECTA believes that taking the public stand of marching in the WorldPride Parade 2014 will provide comfort and support to our students and teachers who frequently struggle in a hostile environment that does not offer them the support and protection they are owed as citizens of Ontario and Canada.”
In response, a group called Parents As First Educators (PAFE) has been gathering signatures to protest OECTA’s participation in WorldPride events. The petition was launched Easter Monday, directed at the Ontario Catholic school trustees who are asked to use their power against OECTA, according to the Toronto Sun.
Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto also criticized the teachers’ attendance in the parade. Michael O’Loughlin of The Advocate reports the cardinal called the teachers attendance in the parade “wrong” and said “OECTA leadership have an inadequate and mistaken understanding of their faith.”
What Cardinal Collins and other critics seem to miss, but what the teachers clearly understand, is that Catholic schools are not harmed, but thrive when they are fully inclusive of LGBT people. In previous years, the OECTA voiced their support for gay LGBT issues but never formally participated in an event. When the union’s assembly voted this year to ramp up support for WorldPride and march in the parade, they did this “in solidarity with one of most marginalized groups in Catholic community” according to their website.
These teachers know firsthand the suffering of students who are LGBT and the hardships of their LGBT peers, like transgender educator Jan Buterman who was fired from a Catholic school last year. Catholics everywhere would do well to learn from the witness of these teachers in Ontario.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry