The Catholic school board in Toronto has reinstated a previously removed resource for LGBTQ students after sharp public criticism about the decision to discontinue it.
Earlier this month, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), a publicly-funded Catholic school system, removed a listing for the LGBT YouthLine from its website, citing “inappropriate material.” YouthLine is an organization that started as a peer-based phone support line for LGBTQ youth, but has evolved to be a multifaceted LGBTQ youth resource center with an online presence–something especially impactful during the isolation of Covid-19.
LGBT YouthLine executive director Berkha Gupta was told via email that TCDSB was removing her organization from their list of resources because a member of the public alerted the board to material housed on YouthLine’s own website that was inappropriate for school-aged children.
When they had initially removed the resource, TCDSB explained its decision with a link to an article in the Italian-Canadian newspaper Corriere Canadese, in which former member of Parliament Joe Volpe calls YouthLine a pornographic website, containing “smut” and “porno paraphernalia.” Volpe’s article goes on to say that YouthLine is a “recruitment site operated by a self-professed LGBTQ+ umbrella organization to attract children that operates province-wide.”
Gupta told The Advocate that these accusations are all too familiar to LGBTQ people and organizations:
“There is a long history of accusing 2SLGBTQ+ people of pedophilia and of ‘corrupting’ children and youth and the article explicitly uses these arguments against us. This rhetoric is harmful, unacceptable, and is overt homophobia and transphobia.”
She told CTV News:
“Frankly, I’m just tired of how often queer communities have to prove that it’s OK for kids to know about us, and that we’re not trying to like, we’re not trying to harm them.”
The removal of YouthLine from the school district’s website was met with immediate criticism from students, advocates, and celebrities. Student Trustee Keith Baybayon, who is bisexual, acknowledged the lack of resources to LGTBQ students both in Catholic schools and during the pandemic:
“We lack connection needed in real life so it’s really helpful that we have these online resources reinstated back within our own website.”
TCDSB Trustee Norm Di Pasquale also objected to the removal, saying YouthLine fills an important gap in the Catholic school system. LGBTQ advocacy groups, including Pride Toronto, White Ribbon Canada, PFLAG York Region, and Dignity Canada also condemned the school board’s decision.
Emmy-winning star and creator of “Schitt’s Creek,” Dan Levy also voiced his criticism of removing the resource. Levy, who last year raised $20K for YouthLine tweeted, “This is a necessary, life-saving resource for young people. Your students deserve better, TCDSB.”
A day after news broke that YouthLine was removed from its website, facing immense pressure and denying it ever intended to permanently remove the website from its listed resources, TCDSB reinstated YouthLine.
The removal of the only resource for LGBTQ youth in the Toronto Catholic schools came the same day as news that a controversial trustee on TCDSB will take an extended medical leave of absence from his post. Mike Del Grande opted to start an indefinite leave after a yearlong investigation into his negative comments about LGBTQ students.
As Bondings 2.0 previously reported, in November 2019 Del Grande equated LGBTQ issues to bestiality, pedophilia, and cannibalism. His remarks were made during a debate over whether to add gender identity and expression to the Board’s code of conduct to align with Canadian human rights legislation. Del Grande has said that he was only defending the Catholic faith when he introduced measures to add the terms “pedophilia,” “anthropophagolagnia” (cannibalizing another person), and “anthropophagy” (deriving sexual gratification from ingesting human flesh). He said he was only using hyperbole to show the “slippery slope” of recognizing gender identity as a protected class.
Del Grande, who once served as the Board vice chairperson, does not understand how he said anything derogatory about gay or transgender people, but the trustees voted to sanction him for breach of TCDSB’s Code of Conduct.
Though two seemingly different issues, the news of the removal of LGBTQ youth resources for being “pornographic” and a school board trustee comparing LGBTQ people to pedophiles are not isolated incidents. The Catholic Church’s narrative around LGBTQ people is antiquated, based in outdated sociology, theology, and rhetoric. Rather than focusing on the lived experience of LGBTQ students who welcome the resources provided by the YouthLine, some in the church continue to marginalize and harass LGBTQ people.
In an ideal world, Toronto’s Catholic schools would not need to link to YouthLink for resources for LGBTQ youth, as schools would already be welcoming, supportive, affirming spaces for LGBTQ students. Until that time, it is incumbent on Catholics and people of goodwill to continue to push Catholic schools to provide resources for LGBTQ students and reject the homophobic, transphobic, and outrageously offensive rhetoric of those in positions of power like Del Grande.
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, January 25, 2021