Officials for the world’s largest publicly-funded Catholic school district are deciding whether to make non-discrimination protections more LGBTQ inclusive by adding protections for gender identity and/or expression.
The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), which is Canada’s largest publicly-funded Catholic school district, has been deliberating since last spring about including gender identity, gender expression, marital status, and family status as protected classes in its non-discrimination policies. The Globe and Mail reported that “staff appeared to have inadvertently omitted those terms” when updating Board policies, and continued:
“Paolo De Buono, a teacher at the TCDSB, first brought the issue forward to the board in March when he noticed the omission by staff.
” ‘All of the terms, which intentionally mirror the Ontario Human Rights Code, are important. Questioning one puts all at risk,’ Mr. De Buono said. ‘A sense of belonging is a key component for learning and a significant amount of students, including my future students, will be impacted as will their families by excluding any of those terms.’ “
“He added: ‘As a Catholic teacher, my religious and professional response is to choose inclusion and not exclusion.’ “
De Buono was one of several presenters the Board heard from during a May meeting when the inclusion of these four classes was discussed. At least one parent objected to the change at the meeting, but the Board’s chair had no reservations:
“Maria Rizzo, the TCDSB chair, said in an interview that after hearing delegations, the issue was sent by the board of trustees to a subcommittee for review. But she said that the TCDSB needs to follow provincial policy and should include the four terms in its code.
” ‘It’s the law. We are an inclusive organization and it should be included and I don’t have any empathy or sympathy for those who think they are holier than the Pope,’ Ms. Rizzo said.
” ‘We are a law-abiding organization. And we will abide by the law.’ “
LGBTQ issues in Canada’s publicly-funded Catholic schools have resulted in some highly contentious disputes in recent years. Many have centered in the more conservative province of Alberta. Back in 2015, Edmonton Catholic School Board ‘s consideration of a transgender policy led to one meeting become a “shouting match,” and at one point, that Board approved“just discrimination” in a draft policy on LGBTQ students. Other school boards in the province struggled to implement LGBTQ directives from the Ministry of Education.
Toronto’s Catholic schools have their own conflicted history, as when Ontario’s Bill 13 became law in 2012 and required all schools to provide a gay-straight alliance if requested by students. The Toronto Catholic School District Board should avoid repeating history and decisively expand their non-discrimination protections to be in accordance not only with the law, but with Catholic values. Luckily, the officials there have willing allies in Paolo De Buono and the many educators of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, which has been remarkably LGBTQ-positive.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 17, 2019