Today’s post is by guest blogger Kevin Welbes Godin, who is the retired Coordinator on Diversity and Inclusion for Egale, a national LGBTIQQ2S organization in Canada. His work has primarily been with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), the world’s largest Catholic teachers’ union, helping them to better serve their LGBT students.
When I conduct LGBTIQQ2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, 2 Spirit) workshops for Catholic teachers in Ontario, Canada, the number one question is always about fearing repercussions from parents if teachers utter anything positive about queerness. The workshop discuss usually involves hypothetical incidents–but sometimes also real experiences–of an irate parent or two and how they can create a tsunami effect on what has been discussed or read about in the classroom. A savvy and usually seasoned teacher observes that these unfortunate events are rare and are usually initiated by one parent, or sometimes an ideological fringe group. Participants are then led to speculate that the majority of a school’s parent community, although silent, are hopeful allies in the daring work teachers do to make LGBTIQQ2S+ students a recognized and celebrated part of the Catholic school community.
Last week, the news broke that the Ottawa Catholic School Board banned the award-winning graphic novel Drama, by Raina Telgemeier from its elementary schools because it features an onstage kiss between two adolescent boys. CBC.ca reported that the book is one of the most widely challenged in U.S. libraries. The school board made the decision in response to complaints from a few parents. This reported incident in Ottawa Catholic elementary schools is an example of how the dynamic described above plays out.
The exception in this case is that there was push back from a host of interested players, but most notably parents. The tide seems to have changed for calmer waters to prevail. At least in Ottawa, parents, some who may be LGBTIQQ2S+, are standing up for their rights and those of their children by saying “no!” The popular graphic novel, Drama, aimed at the Grade 6 level, cannot solely be dismissed because of an innocent kiss and perceived same-sex attraction. Most parents see the personal and don’t have much patience for the political power plays .
What is important that the majority of parents are now empowered to speak truth to the knee-jerk reactions of nervous administrators. Their voice is growing. And what kind of voice do we hear? The voice that sees the personal over board office politics. The voice of opposition to institutional homo/bi/transphobia. The voice of compassion in the face of hate. The voice of wanting a Catholic education that prepares children for the world instead of a protective Catholic bubble. They see that the Catholic bubble has burst in other recent church atrocities that have destroyed people’s lives. Their eyes are wide open and their voices are more vocal than ever — for the sake of their children, family, teachers and even themselves who are LGBTIQQ2S+.
As an answer to those Catholic teachers who so desire to do the work of full inclusion and celebration for their LGBTIQQ2S+ students, ally parent voices are so welcomed and needed. Paving the way for teachers feeling comfortable to do this work has to be that treasured and oft talked about partnership with parents. Parents, your voices are needed to support teachers and persuade Catholic school boards to respond with authentic actions that back the lofty words of strategic plans. LGBTIQQ2S+ students have 8 times the rate of youth suicide, and if a book about two young kids kissing on stage is so threatening, then Catholic education sadly misses the point.
I’m relieved to see that the board reversed it’s decision. In a statement explaining the reversed decision, a spokesperson for the school board said:
“The Ottawa Catholic School Board has listened to educators, parents, stakeholders & ratepayers.
“We remain fully committed to having safe, inclusive, and accepting schools.”
I’m thrilled so many spoke up against cloaked and deceptive language meant to be inclusive. Let’s hope going forward we will see board decision makers that don’t cower to the loud screamer, but move with the courage to lead knowing that is what most faithful parents expect for their children.
–Kevin Welbes Godin, Independent Consultant on Diversity and Inclusion, January 22, 2019