Some of Canada’s LGBTQ advocacy groups are calling for an end to the public funding of Canadian Catholic schools over the schools’ treatment of LGBTQ students and staff.
Broadview, a Canadian Christian magazine, reported that a debate is currently raging over whether or not Canadian taxpayers should continue to fund the separate Catholic school boards in three provinces and two territories. The Canadian Constitutional Act of 1867 empowered each province to decide whether or not to fund school systems separate from the public school system for Catholics and Protestants, in an effort to protect minority religions’ access to education. Currently, five such publicly-funded Catholic schools systems exist in Canada.
While the separate Catholic school boards are required to follow the Ministry of Education’s directives, these separate schools also require religious education and participation in the church’s spiritual life. The Catholic school boards have carved out exemptions from certain criteria to maintain conformity with Catholic teaching.
Advocates for defunding the Catholic system say that this conformity to Catholic teaching puts LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff in taxpayer-funded harmful situations. For instance, in Ontario, students in both the separate Catholic school system as well as public schools are required to learn about LGBTQ issues in school. The Catholic separate schools, however, only present those LGBTQ issues in line with Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Because of this loophole, students at Catholic schools could be taught that LGBTQ people are sinful, “transgenderism” is an “ideology” against God’s will, and another of other controversial positions the Church takes on LGBTQ people.
This has allowed for the continued erasure of LGBTQ existence, micro-aggressions against LGBTQ students, and employment discrimination against anyone who does not adhere to Catholic teaching, the defunding advocates say.
The advocates, who include the groups Civil Rights in Public Education and One Public Education Now, also point to data and stories from disenfranchised LGBTQ youth to show that students at these Catholic schools suffer from higher rates of discrimination than their peers who study in public schools.
According to Broadview, research conducted by University of Winnipeg’s Respect, Inclusive, Safe, and Equitable Schools Project (RISE), found that only 57% of teachers in Catholic schools say they are comfortable discussing LGBTQ topics with students, even though the curriculum requires it. Nearly 75% of public-school educators say they are comfortable with LGBTQ topics. Their research also shows significantly higher instances of LGBTQ students leaving the Catholic school system for their own safety, LGBTQ students at Catholic schools reporting self-harm, and teachers fearing retribution for discussing LGBTQ issues with students at Catholic schools.
LGBTQ advocacy groups believe the public funding arrangement has run its course, arguing that the law originally intended to protect marginalized groups now allows for discrimination and harm for the LGBTQ community.
On the other hand, proponents of Catholic education worry the defunding of Catholic schools would cause disastrous disruptions to the families, students, and staff that choose to attend and work in a faith-based school system. Jackie Bajus, one such advocate, recognizes that the Catholic school boards have serious work to do to support and affirm their LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff. Bajus, who worked for the Ontario Catholic school board for fifty years, most recently as its superintendent, believes Catholic schools are at their core inclusive. She said, “We are all [God’s] children, and that’s the message we in our Catholic schools continually give.”
The politics of whether or not Canadian citizens should fund Catholic schools should be immaterial to the Catholic school boards’ actions. Instead, the Catholic school boards should recognize that the safety of students–all students–in their care is their ethical mandate. Rather than carve out loopholes to use public funding to continue to erase, isolate, and discriminate against LGBTQ youth, the Catholic schools should listen to their students, staff, faculties and their public-school peers to ensure the schools grounded in the love of Jesus are welcoming, affirming, and supportive to all students.
Because of their public funding and requirements, Canadian Catholic schools are in a unique position to continue providing the best of Christian values-based education while taking its lead on gender and sexuality from external experts. In that way, they can continue upholding the mission to build the Reign of God on earth without the flawed, antiquated, harmful understandings of sexuality and gender that continue to victimize LGBTQ people.
–Kevin C Molloy, New Ways Ministry, February 26, 2021