A Catholic education official in Toronto is being called on to resign after comparing LGBTQ issues to cannibalism, pedophilia, and beastiality during a recent debate over whether school policies should be made more inclusive.
Michael Del Grande, a trustee for the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), is facing criticism for anti-LGBTQ remarks he made earlier this month. CBC reported:
“Del Grande made a series of controversial comments toward the end of a six-hour board meeting on Nov. 7 where trustees eventually voted to amend the board’s code of conduct to include broader protections for LGBTQ students.
“Trustees voted eight-to-four in favour of a motion to add four terms to the board’s code: gender identity, gender expression, family status and marital status.
“Del Grande, who is a former Toronto city councillor and budget chief during Rob Ford’s mayoralty, moved an amendment at the meeting asking for other terms to be added to that list, including bestiality, pedophilia, cannibalism, auto-erotic asphyxiation and ‘auto-vampirism.’
“Adding things like gender identity to the board’s code of conduct amounts to a ‘slippery slope,’ Del Grande said at the meeting.
“‘So this is how slippery it’s going to get,’ he added. The amendment was later ruled out of order and was withdrawn.”
Del Grande, a former chair of TCDSB and former member of Toronto’s city council, later clarified his amendment was “hyperbole” and “not serious,” words which have not satisfied critics. A petition calling for Del Grande’s removal from the school board, launched by the godmother of a transgender child in a Toronto Catholic school, has more than 1,200 signatures. The petition called Del Grande’s conduct “shocking,” “out of touch,” and “unprofessional,” adding he may have violated TCDSB’s code of conduct.
But so far, no formal action has beedn taken against Del Grande. TCDSB chair Maria Rizzo said she was waiting on an “official complaint” to investigate, according to the CBC:
“Rizzo said there is no special avenue a person would need to use to submit a formal complaint. They would just need to specify in an email to the board that they weren’t simply sharing an opinion, but formally complaining.
“That’s something that has already happened. Etobicoke resident Fred Pritchard wrote to Rizzo on Tuesday morning, calling Del Grande’s comments ‘vile and disgusting.’
“‘Please consider this a formal complaint about his conduct,’ Pritchard wrote.
“Rizzo said she hadn’t seen that email Wednesday as her inbox has been flooded. She also said she expected a former student trustee who is part of the LGBTQ community to make a formal complaint to the board about Del Grande’s conduct.”
While the board’s next steps on Del Grande are unknown, Rizzo, an advocate for LGBTQ inclusion, criticized the trustee’s remarks as uncivil and as sending a “terrible message” to students, even if he was being hyperbolic.
Further complicating the situation is a report that Del Grande is running to replace Rizzo as TCDSB chair at the upcoming election on November 28, 2019. He is running against a ticket of two trustees who led efforts to protect transgender students. The petition identifies Angela Kennedy as a key swing vote, which may be for Del Grande, as she opposed expanded LGBTQ language before supporting it.
Earlier this fall, a TCDSB subcommittee proposed omitting protections based on gender identity, gender expression, marital status, and family status in its code of conduct, instead recommending the insertion of a generic statement “that all people are created in the image and likeness of God and are deserving of respect and dignity.” But TCDSB then quickly settled months of this controversy about adding new LGBTQ protections after the Archdiocese of Toronto backed the language, which was required to be added under provincial law.
The dispute over Del Grande’s anti-LGBTQ comments is just a microcosm in the wider, ongoing debate over LGBTQ issues in Canada’s publicly-funded Catholic schools. Many Canadians, including Catholics, remain dissatisfied with church-affiliated education. Brianna Bell welcomed the TCDSB change in the Toronto Star, but said she would still be removing her two children from Toronto’s Catholic schools. Bell said the debate “left a bad taste in my mouth” and proved much work needed to be done:
“The TCDSB’s discussions around whether or not to include gender identity and expression in their discrimination policy is an obvious signal that Catholic schools are not prioritizing the safety of LGBTQ2+ students, or students who come from queer families. My conscience has been telling me that sending my children to a school that would exclude LGBTQ2+ teachers, and encourage policy that discriminates against queer students, isn’t setting the example that I want. My role as a parent is to protect my kids, and to raise them to be empathetic and inclusive, but how can I do that when the school that they attend doesn’t uphold those basic values?”
The debate over expanded LGBTQ protections also raised questions anew about whether the government should continue funding Catholic schools in Ontario, in part over concerns about LGBTQ inclusion. Columnist Chris Selley wrote in The National Post that this question of education funding should no longer be a third rail in politics, specifically upcoming elections:
“Readers from outside Ontario will be relieved to hear that we have safely endured one of our patented controversies over publicly funded Catholic schools. . .What usually happens now is that some of us throw up our hands and wonder why on earth we’re funding schools that struggle with human rights legislation — or if we’re going to fund some such schools, why only Catholic ones. There is an obligatory round of newspaper columns and editorials. But because no party in the legislature save the Greens (who hold a single seat) wants to talk about change, and the same goes for all but vanishingly few individual MPPs, it just fizzles out. . .This third rail should have been de-electrified long ago.”
Toronto’s Catholic schools comprise the largest publicly-funded system in the world, While more LGBTQ people are now protected under its code of conduct, these remarks by Trustee Del Grande and the wider controversy reveal the high costs that attaining inclusion can incur. Parents electing to remove their children from Catholic schools and anti-LGBTQ policies giving greater clout to defunding arguments are not sustainable trends for Catholic education. Church officials seem to be presented with a choice that they can either become inclusive or they can cease to exist. It remains to be seen which path they will choose regarding the viciously anti-LGBTQ comments of Michael Del Grande.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 23, 2019