A few weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on a set of guidelines to prevent bullying on LGBT students which was issued by the Catholic Education Service of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. That effort is now joined by a similar set of guidelines, entitled “Live Life to the Full,” for a group of Catholic schools in Australia.
The Age newspaper reported:
“Edmund Rice Education Australia has distributed resources to its 52 schools and will soon run training to help teachers create a safer and more inclusive environment for gay and transgender students and LGBTI families.”
Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) is a network of schools run by the Irish Christian Brothers. The group’s executive director, Wayne Tinsey, commented that the church and Catholic schools have been too “silent” for too long on the issue of LGBTI students being bullied. He explained to the newspaper:
“We are not trying to be provocative and we are not trying to create divisions. Our core belief is that of inclusion – bullying, harassment and discrimination totally contravenes that and has no place in our schools.”
The EREA issued a “Safe and Inclusive Learning Communities Statement,” as well as a set of “Resources for School Principals, Leaders & Teachers,” both of which can be found by clicking their titles. Additionally a “Report on Safe and Inclusive Learning Communities” was produced, and which can be requested by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about all three documents can be found by clicking here.
In the “Statement,” EREA provided both scriptural and papal justifications for providing such guidelines:
“Our sacred scripture reminds us (Genesis 1) that each and every
person is made in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, each
person has their own inherent dignity and is intended by God to grow
to fullness. For EREA, this means supporting each young person to
achieve growth and liberation through pastoral as well as academic
and co-curricular support.
“Jesus, the great includer, challenges us with a radical vision of love
and inclusion. Pope Francis takes up this challenge: ‘We would like
before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual
orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated
with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be
carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.’
Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia: The Joy of Love, 19 March 2016.
While the EREA report offers 21 recommendations for schools to follow, the report’s summary singles out the following four as “first tasks that ought to be considered”:
6.2 “It is recommended that a ‘whole school approach’ be adopted by each Catholic secondary school that clearly reflects an awareness of the presence of same sex attracted individuals in its student community.
6.4 It is recommended that each Catholic secondary school includes in its discrimination and harassment policies, guidelines and procedures that address homophobia, along with sexism, racism and other forms of violence.
6.5 It is recommended that Catholic secondary schools review their existing policies, procedures, guidelines, programs and practices to ensure that they are inclusive of the needs of same sex attracted students.
6.8 It is recommended that each Catholic secondary school should seek to create an inclusive and supportive environment in which staff and students feel confident to explore issues of identity, difference and similarity.”
In the “Resources” document, the EREA addresses the concern that discussing LGBTI issues in a Catholic school may not be religiously appropriate. Their response:
“The largest misconception that prevents faith-based schools (and educators) from addressing issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity is the conflation of sexuality and sexual practice as synonymous terms of identity expression. Because a student is an LGBTI person does not automatically mean that they are or will be sexually active. Fundamentally, when schools address the concerns and issues of LGBTI students, they should do so within the context of student health, safety and human rights. Sexual orientation and gender identity concerns can be addressed respectfully within all faith-based contexts.”
The “Resources” also discuss how to respond to a variety of other objections from faculty and parents.
These materials were produced because the EREA leadership felt that materials from the Australian government’s “Safe Schools Initiative” were inappropriate for their schools. They are based on research done by Jesuit Peter Norden in 2007 who examined how Catholic schools can be more supportive of LGBTI students.
While such a document will help students and families in schools, it’s important to also note that it will do so primaily by ending the stultifying and deadening “silence” which Tinsey described above. The Age article quoted one administrator who made this point:
“Gerald Bain-King, principal of one Edmund Rice school, the Christian Brothers’ College in St Kilda, said the initiative would allow Catholic schools to have more effective conversations with young people who may be coming to terms with their sexuality.”
And, as the “Statement” explains, all students will benefit from such a program:
“Homophobia diminishes the dignity of all. The existence and acceptance of homophobic attitudes in a school can perpetuate narrow gender stereotypes.”
The publication of this resource adds to the growing list of ways that Catholic schools can become more welcoming and inclusive places. Next week, Bondings 2.0 will report on a new, inclusive policy for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, in the U.S.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 3, 2017