A Catholic school district in Canada has sanctioned an official who expressed homophobic comments opposing LGBTQ-supportive policies for students. In a related story, a candidate for another district’s trustees has been criticized for his disparaging writings on LGBTQ identity and his endorsement of conversion therapy.
According to CBC News, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) placed administrative penalties on trustee member Michael Del Grande this month because he compared LGBTQ issues to bestiality, pedophilia, and cannibalism during a November 7, 2019 meeting which focused on incorporating non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ students.
Following a special convening, TCDSB concluded that Del Grande’s comments breached its code of conduct for trustee members and that his statements were “disrespectful of the LGBTQ community as a whole, as well as the TCDSB community.”
As reported by The Star, the new TCDSB sanctions reversed an August 20, 2020, decision which had exonerated Del Grande. Bondings 2.0 previously documented the sharp criticism Michael Del Grande received for his anti-LGBTQ remarks and the larger, ongoing debate over LGBTQ issues in Canada’s publicly-funded Catholic schools. Similarly, Bondings 2.0 also reported on the TCDSB’s vote to adopt non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ students into its code of conduct, an amendment backed by the Archdiocese of Toronto. The additional categories included gender identity, gender expression, family status, and marital status.
In its appellate decision, TCDSB suspended Del Grande from any future representative capacity of the board for three months. Del Grande has also been asked to publicly apologize as well as complete an equity training course. Del Grande was granted 14 days to appeal TCDSB’s decision.
Former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne encouraged her fellow TCDSB trustees to impose sanctions on Del Grande and to disclose a confidential report that documented his homophobic comments. CBC News quoted from her testimony:
“‘You are the front-line of upholding the integrity of the Catholic education system in Ontario…I ask you to do the right thing: Release the report and sanction your colleague.'”
Trustee Norm Di Pasquale emphasized that the board’s imposition of sanctions on Del Grande was a significant step to “restore public confidence in the board, while trustee Markus de Domenico said the board needed to right a wrong.”
In related news, according to the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Hudson Byblow, a candidate for the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School’s board of education, has been heavily criticized for his disparaging publications on LGBTQ identity and relationships.
Among Byblow’s writings is his idea that ‘”same-sex sexual/romantic relationship or transgender pursuits are rejections of chastity.”
In 2019, he penned a document advocating for the implementation of “morality clauses” to be included in teachers’ employment contracts in Canadian schools. The publication was in support of a pivotal 2018 dispute before the Alberta Human Rights Commission. These so-called “morality clauses,” similar to those used by some U.S. Catholic schools, stated that same-sex or “common-law relationships” constituted a breach of one’s teaching contract and could therefore be grounds for employment termination.
Moreover, Byblow asserted that changing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is possible based on his own experience, noting that “same-sex attractions and transgender inclinations” are part of his personal experience.
Kristopher Wells, Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youths, enumerated the multiple destructive consequences of conversion therapy:
“‘Conversion therapy is not one practice, but many practices. And what they all have in common is starting with an anti-LGBTQ ideology,’ Wells said.’ “If you don’t start from that premise that there’s something wrong, broken, disordered, immoral or evil about LGBTQ people, then you’re not going to want to change them, or try to cure them, or try to fix them.’”
Amanda Guthrie, education manager for OUTSaskatoon, also underscored the important role of empowering teachers and educators to cultivate an inclusive learning environment where LGBTQ students can grow and develop:
“‘One of our missions in our work is to encourage and teach (teachers and administrators) how to make their schools spaces where all students can thrive, not despite identity but because of their identity,’ she said. ‘We need to have administrators and school board trustees and teachers fully on board, understanding that each child should have the right to feel safe and affirmed.’”
If the fundamental premise that being LGBTQ is (falsely) understood to be a psychological defect, then creating an inclusive space for LGBTQ students will be an impossible task. And, if teachers and administrators are forced to sign so-called “morality clauses” that place their employment in peril for who they are and who they love, their efforts to safeguard their students from harassment and prejudice will be severely undermined.
Although Canada’s school districts are engaging in important discussions to protect educators and students alike from bigotry, board members as well as trustee candidates who make vile homophobic comments or who express support of conversion therapy should not be permitted to derail those initiatives by serving in these administrative roles.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, November 21, 2020