A Catholic education official in Ontario is facing criticism from multiple quarters over his anti-LGBTQ comments, as well as allegations that he intimidated and harassed a student over her progressive views.
Last month, Michael Del Grande, a trustee for the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), compared LGBTQ issues to cannabalism, pedophilia, and bestiality. He made the remarks during a debate over now-approved changes that expanded LGBTQ non-discrimination protections in the Board’s Code of Conduct. But since November, Del Grande has faced unyielding criticism for his anti-LGBTQ stance.
More recently, Del Grande is also facing allegations that he intimidated and berated a high school student, Taylor Dallin, who serves as a trustee for TCDSB. The focus of the controversy was the potential screening of an anti-abortion film, Unplanned. The Toronto Star reported:
“Dallin, now 17, had suggested students be involved in the decision given the controversy over the movie’s accuracy.
“Afterwards, Del Grande is alleged to have approached her, and questioned her in ‘an extremely unfriendly and accusatory tone’ about her views on abortion and her commitment to being a Catholic trustee because of her progressive views.
“Del Grande, she said, ‘was yelling at me for the majority of the conversation. To be completely honest, I felt scared and helpless … I tried multiple times to leave the room, but I couldn’t because he kept talking at me.’
“When she burst into tears, he gave her a ‘perfunctory apology’ and left, she alleges.”
Since the incident, TCDSB officials hired an investigator and put a safety plan into place for Dallin. Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, has offered support for the investigation.
Toronto’s Mayor John Tory had stronger words, calling Del Grande’s alleged behavior and his previous comments “dinosaur-like.” Part of the recent criticism is over an essay Del Grande posted on a right wing Catholic website defending his comparison of LGBTQ issues to cannabalism, pedophilia, and bestiality after he avoided censure by his fellow trustees (and lost an election to be the Board’s chair). In that piece, the trustee referenced a “critical crossroads” for society in which people of no faith and people opposed to Catholicism allegedly team up to harm church teaching. He repeatedly framed the issues in terms of “evil,” according to The Toronto Star.
In response, TCDSB trustee Markus de Domenico and five other trustees asked for a special meeting held in public session to discuss Del Grande’s piece. The Toronto Star reported:
“De Domenico said that at Monday’s meeting, ‘I’d like the board to ask Trustee Del Grande to withdraw those statements (on LifeSiteNews.com), apologize and repudiate the impressions that he’s given staff, student, families and trustees.’
“Del Grande, he added, ‘should acknowledge the comments are improper and hurtful to the community. I believe the board has been put in a very poor light. The majority of trustees voted to move progressively forward on the code of conduct. These comments from a minority group (of trustees) don’t represent the views of the vast majority of students and families in our board.'”
Further, The Star’s editorial board issued called for Del Grande’s resignation, writing, “He should be ashamed of himself for his grotesque efforts to prevent his fellow trustees from expanding the school board’s code of conduct to include gender issues and family status. It’s time he stepped down.”
In a related note, the Archdiocese of Toronto has seemingly retracted support it offered for the Code of Conduct changes to add gender identity, gender expression, marital status, and family status as protected classes. The Archdiocese ended months of controversy at TCDSB when it backed language explicitly including these terms rather than a proposed generic phrase about respecting people. But in a new statement, church officials in Toronto wrote, in part:
“Ministry of Education policy, PPM 128, directs that the prohibited grounds of discrimination found in the Ontario Human Rights Code be included in updated Codes of Conduct for all school boards in Ontario. While the archdiocese recognizes that terms such as gender identity are included in the Code, we do not accept the view of the human person which underlies this terminology, since that view is not compatible with our faith.”
The statement made the further claim that the new provisions in the Code would be “interpreted according to Catholic faith,” as defined by the hierarchy.
The situation in Toronto’s Catholic schools, which is the world’s largest publicly-funded Catholic district with some 91,000 students, is untenable. Officials charged with the Toronto Catholic School District must strive to eliminate the doubts many LGBTQ students and staff likely have about whether the Board truly supports them. The Code of Conduct changes are a positive step, but as well as changing policies, the culture must change, too. That begins with a clear disavowal of Michael Del Grande’s repeated violations of basic decency.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 19, 2019