When Liam Finnegan was 16, he challenged his Catholic high school about its use of pastorally damaging language about gay and lesbian people. He eventually succeeded in making changes. His message of acceptance has spread since then, and recently Finnegan’s peers donned rainbow socks for graduation to show their support for LGBT students.
Seniors at Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Canada’s Yukon province sported knee-high rainbow socks under their gowns in solidarity with the school’s gay-straight alliance which had been hotly contested. According to CBC, more than half the graduating class participated in the action, which was started by Kate Power, a friend of Finnegan’s. The socks represented a year’s worth of organizing, which resulted in the GSA’s formation and the removal of pastorally insensitive language in the Catholic school district’s written policy on homosexuality.
In April 2013, Finnegan, who is gay, successfully challenged Vanier Catholic’s use of the terms “intrinsically disordered” and “acts of grave depravity” when referring to lesbian and gay people on the school’s website. At the time, he said:
“There were a few things in the document that were not homophobic and that made me think that maybe this isn’t such a terrible thing, since it said homosexuals shouldn’t be discriminated against, and I liked that part of it. But then as I continued reading the policy it veered into the ridiculous, describing homosexuality as an ‘intrinsically moral evil’ and saying that I was a ‘sinner’ and that I needed to be ‘healed.’ ”
“Somebody had to say something.”
Due to Finnegan’s complaint, the bishop and province’s education minister met and agreed that the offending document should be removed because it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada’s Catholic schools are publicly-funded and must abide by government policies.
In the fall of 2013, a new policy on homosexuality was released. The offending language was removed and language about the dignity of LGBT people and need for respecting them was added. The policy also mandated students be allowed to form GSAs and that administrators deal with hate crimes immediately.
Of Kate Power’s rainbow sock demonstration, and the broader changes at Vanier Catholic, Finnegan said:
” ‘She wanted to make a statement saying “We’re not a homophobic school’ because a lot of people have that perception, so it was a really cool experience to see that,” ‘
” ‘I remember my dad telling me afterwards how it was an emotional experience, because it showed my class really supporting me, my cause and just being a really open group of people.’…
” ‘It’s a big difference and it’s noticeable…Even though it might have just been a few words that changed in the policy, it’s given us the chance to start a wonderful group that’s trying to make a huge difference in our school and in our community.’ “
The school’s GSA had about 30 members this year, and it will continue next year. Bondings 2.0 has written previously bout the many inroads towards LGBT inclusion that Canada’s Catholic schools are making, including the Ontario teachers’ decision to march in World Pride this month and the beautiful mural painted during one high school’s first ever Pride week. For full coverage of developments on Catholic LGBT issues in Canada, click here.
Congratulations to Liam Finnegan and the students of Vanier Catholic Secondary School on graduating, and for the LGBT-inclusive legacy they will leave behind!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry