Catholic Schools Have Differing Responses to New Law Protecting LGBT Youth

Schools in Alberta, Canada, continue to make news concerning more inclusive policies regarding LGBT students and staff.  Some Catholic schools are supporting these policies, while others oppose them.

The Edmonton Journal recently reported that a new provincial law has been enacted (Bill 24) that helps establish gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in schools.  It also protects the anonymity of students who join such clubs, even if their parents request information regarding participation. Additionally, the law requires that schools write and display a code of conduct, something that Catholic and other private schools did not previously have to do.

However, the news article also notes that Catholic schools maintain a policy that says that if there is disagreement between the school’s religious policies and secular laws, then the religious policies must be followed.

The Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association had spoken out against the legislation before it was passed. The Edmonton Journal reported in November that the association put out a statement against the bill’s privacy aspects saying:

“‘One of our main concerns with Bill 24 is the diminishment of the role of school governing bodies, particularly the elected school boards and school superintendents,’  the association said in its statement. The trustees also feel the bill puts undue pressure “on the school principal to be, in effect, the sole decision-maker who is only accountable to the minister of education, bypassing long-entrenched best practices and chains of authority as outlined in the School Act.”

Other Catholic schools said that the bill was standard practice for how they’ve already treated students in gay-straight alliances:

“Calgary’s Catholic school board said Bill 24 fits with its current policy of not notifying parents about GSA membership. Fort McMurray’s Catholic school district also said the bill aligns with its policies.”

Even after the pushback in November, Catholic schools in Edmonton updated and posted their policies in compliance with the new law. Updated documents show that Catholic schools have adopted the policy stating that:

“(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), an organization or activity includes an organization or activity that promotes equality and non-discrimination with respect to, without limitation, race, religious belief, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, family status or sexual orientation, including but not limited to organizations such as gay-straight alliances, diversity clubs, anti-racism clubs and anti-bullying clubs. (3) The students may select a respectful and inclusive name for the organization or activity, including the name “gay-straight alliance” or “queer-straight alliance”, after consulting with the principal. (3.1) For greater certainty, the principal shall not prohibit or discourage students from choosing a name that includes “gay-straight alliance” or “queer-straight alliance.”

The new regulations in Catholic schools also respect students’ anonymity when it comes to joining a Gay-Straight Alliance, yet it also  encourages parents to discuss such clubs further with their children. school officials :

 “In the event that a new student organization or activity is undertaken in a school, notification of the establishment of the student organization or activity shall be sent to all parents. Students participating in the student organization or activity shall not be identified. This notification should include a statement regarding the responsibility of parents to discuss with their child the purpose and nature of the club, whether their child wishes to become a member and their child’s obligation to contribute to a welcoming, caring, respectful, and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging. At all times, parents are invited to converse with the school regarding the intention of student organizations, clubs, and activities.”

The new guidelines also helped to provide other supports to LGBT students and staff in Edmonton Catholic schools, such as providing additional support and guidance for students with differing sexual orientations or gender expressions. One such guideline:

“Provide the option of single use washroom/change-room facilities for staff and students whenever possible; Provide age appropriate education to students on inclusive language and behaviours permeated through all aspects of the school day/life; and, 3.2.9 Ensure that activities or practices that segregate or differentiate children based on ability, gender, or other characteristics are reduced to the greatest extent possible.”

 In April, Bondings 2.0 reported that school districts across Alberta had published a resource to help LGBT students and staff navigate sexual orientation at school, and to help combat bullying.

Alberta continues to make strides in some areas of inclusion for LGBT students, even in Catholic schools, though it is disappointing that some Catholic administrations oppose these steps designed to help youth feel safe. . Something as simple as providing anonymity for students in Gay-Straight Alliances can be a major relief for students that are exploring their sexuality.

Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, August 7, 2018



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