Catholic Grade School Students Teach Adults a Lesson About LGBT Justice

If anyone needs any proof that the younger generation are in the forefront of moving the Catholic Church to become more inclusive and equal for LGBT people, there’s no need to look anywhere past Ottawa, Canada, where Catholic school officials are now allowing two sixth grade students to go forward with a gay-themed project to fulfill a social justice assignment.

Quinn Maloney-Tavares and Polly Hamilton

The Ottawa Catholic School Board reversed an earlier decision by a principal to ban a project being organized by two girls, Quinn Maloney-Tavares and Polly Hamilton, who were preparing a presentation for St. George’s School’s  Social Justice Fair.

According to The Ottawa Citizenthe School Board’s director of education Julian Hanlon said that the school principal had originally had concerns about the project not because it was about gay and lesbian people, but because he felt it might not be age-appropriate for 4th and 5th grade students.

The news account explains some of the board’s rationale for the reversal:

“In a statement on Friday, board chairman Ted Hurley said he had reviewed the matter ‘in the full context of promoting fairness, bullying prevention and Catholic teaching with regard to gay rights.’

“ ‘The Holy Father, Pope Francis, has made it clear that our attitudes to gay and lesbian people should be addressed with love and dignity in an open and transparent way, when he said, “Who am I to judge?” ‘

“He said concern about age-appropriateness of the subject matter for Grade 4 and 5 students drove the decision to disallow the presentation.

“What has since become clear, however, is that the motives behind the planned presentation by the two young girls were simply to combat the kinds of behaviour and attitudes that can lead to bullying of gay people, and violations of human rights,” Hurley’s statement said.”

The linchpin of this story is in the term “age-appropriate.”  Why would it seem that gay and lesbian people are not topics to discuss among elementary school students?   It is always difficult to speculate.  Would it be because discrimination against such people had been so harsh for so long that the subject matter may be too intense for young people?  Or is it because some adults perceive the topic to be primarily about sexual activity, which would not be something that school children have the maturity level to comprehend?  Could it be because Catholic teaching on the subject is so complicated and hotly debated?  Perhaps it was something else entirely.

Whatever the reason, these two young students have shown that the primary defining feature of this topic is the human dignity of people who do not conform to mainstream expectations.  That is a valuable lesson not only for 4th and 5th graders, but, it seems, one that some of the school officials need to learn.

Ann Maloney, Quinn’s mother, defended the project as fitting the assignment and the intended audience.  And, she said the controversy has already taught the girls and the community some important ideas:

“ ‘Social justice is about people who are oppressed, and gay people have been oppressed in society and continue to be,’ she said. ‘That’s all that the kids want to do. It’s a kid-friendly, kid-appropriate topic to do.’

“She said the kids have learned a lot from the experience already: ‘That you don’t have to walk away: that if you do something, there can be change. That’s the exciting part for them.’ ”

This past year alone, we have seen Catholic high school students protesting the firings of lesbian and gay teachers from their schools, Catholic college students developing policies that are inclusive and sensitive to their LGBT friends on campuses, and many other initiatives that young Catholics have undertaken to make sure that their church-run institutions are welcoming of all.  Just click on “Schools & Youth” in the “Categories” box in the column on the right-hand side of this page.

The future is in good hands!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

The Ottawa Citizen editorial: “The Catholic board and gay rights”


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