Despite Canada’s advances toward LGBTQ equality, a scholar’s new book on Catholic schools revealed how involved the Church is in discrimination.
Dr. Tonya D. Callaghan’s recent book, Homophobia in the Hallways: Heterosexism and Transphobia in Canadian Catholic Schools, documented the effects of institutionalized discrimination in Ontario’s and Alberta’s Catholic schools. Callaghan, who is an associate professor at the University of Calgary. The book presents twenty interviews with LGBTQ students and teachers. She explained of her findings to The Conversation, a Canadian resource:
“‘I found that publicly funded Catholic schools in Canada respond to non-heterosexual and non-binary gender students and teachers in contradictory and inconsistent ways,” Callaghan says.
“All of the research participants experienced some form of homophobia or transphobia in their Catholic schools,” Callaghan concludes. “None described a Catholic school environment that accepted and welcomed sexual and gender diversity.”
Callaghan experienced this discrimination firsthand while teaching English for Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD), saying:
“It might seem strange that someone like me, a publicly “out” lesbian, sought employment with a Catholic school. But I was raised in a Catholic family that counts clergy among its members and I regarded myself as culturally Catholic. Having a Catholic background also made it easier for me to find a teaching position at a time when they were hard to get.’”
At CCSD, Callaghan reported experiencing homophobia daily. Her breaking point came when a student died by suicide after months of homophobic bullying. The experience pushed Callaghan to research the experiences of the LGBTQ community in Canada’s Catholic schools, as well as the institutionalization of homophobia and transphobia throughout the Church.
Discriminating against queer students and firing LGBTQ teachers in Catholic schools, according to Callaghan, violates the equality rights provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, begging the question of whether or not publicly funded Catholic schools must respect the law.
“This recurring discrimination against sexual and gender minority groups could be due to the central contradiction within Catholic doctrine itself: the church’s teaching best summarized as ‘It’s OK to be gay, just don’t act on it,’ — a position some Catholics reject,” Callaghan writes.
Callaghan references a 2004 policy from the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation,” as influential in informing schools’ guidelines for LGBTQ students, families and staff. While the document calls homosexual acts “intrinsically disordered,” those with an LGB sexual orientation are instructed to remain chaste even while they “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” The document, in turn, quotes the Vatican’s 1986 pastoral letter to Canadian bishops that calls homosexuality the “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”
“Where schools promote such contradictory messages associating respect and depravity with LGBTQ people, they have made Alberta and Ontario Catholic schools potential hotbeds for homophobia — places where dedicated teachers fear for their jobs, and where LGBTQ youth are denied true acceptance and as a consequence are at risk of bullying and depression among other things,” said Callaghan.
LGBTQ issues in Canada’s Catholic schools have been controversial for several years now. Controversy in Alberta has led the province’s Education Minister, David Eggen, to intervene after allegations of “morality causes” in teacher contracts were made late last year. Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops there have remained silent. In Calgary, at least one educator has appealed for a more merciful treatment of LGBTQ church workers and another has filed a human rights complaint alleging discrimination.
Through work like Callaghan’s, LGBTQ Catholics and allies are able to hold a mirror up to policies and practices that discriminate against Church members.
For ideas on how to introduce LGBTQ policies, practices, and programs in Catholic Schools, check out New Ways Ministry’s “Back to School” page on our website.
—Katie Smith, March 5, 2019