Students in Ontario are uniting in action to demand an end to LGBTQ discrimination in Catholic schools by releasing a statement calling for structural reforms in their educational institutions.
The Toronto Star reported that the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association (OSTA) released a statement last month addressing “the persistence of homophobia and anti-2SLGBTQ+ incidents in Catholic schools across Ontario.” They called for the establishment of 2SLGBTQ+ advisory committees, mental health resources for 2SLGBTQ+ students listed on school websites, specific supports for Two-Spirit students, and inclusion of 2SLGBTQ+ identities in district surveys and registrations. The letter stated:
“Each of the recommendations has a tangible, direct impact on the well-being of 2SLGBTQ+ students and therefore has the potential to reduce thoughts of suicide attempts and self-harm in students that stem from homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of 2SLGBTQ+ discrimination.”
[Editor’s note: “Two-Spirit” (2S) is a term used by some Indigenous communities to refer to people whose gender is beyond a male/female binary.]
Declan Amaral, a grade 12 student trustee on the Durham Catholic District School Board (DCDSB), said, “Some of the concerns are around mental health supports for 2SLGBTQ+ students, representation in curriculum, and the use of preferred pronouns and names on school lists and classes.”
Tracy Barill, Director of Education for the Durham Catholic District, emphasized the work already happening to ensure the well-being of 2SLGBTQ+ students:
“‘We are committed to ensuring 2SLGBTQ+ students and staff are welcomed with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Through authentic engagement of students, families, staff, and communities we have learned more about how to better support 2SLGBTQ+ students and have taken concrete actions to respond to their needs.”
DCDSB created an advisory body in 2021 to train staff on inclusive practices and supports for 2SLGBTQ+ students and in May 2021 voted to fly the Pride flag for the month of June at all schools, another request specifically made in the OSTA letter.
Barill categorized the debate as “perhaps the most complex and also potentially the most impactful decision that I have ever placed before you,” noting the controversy between the Catholic Church and issues of gender and sexual identity. The vote itself was tense, with over 150 members of the public offering their commentary on the issue.
Another Catholic school district in Ontario took the opposite approach. The Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland, and Clarington Catholic District School Board (PVNCCDSB) voted in June 2021 not to allow “special purpose flags,” including the Pride flag, on school property.
“We are seeking out and listening to the stories and experiences of students and families from historically marginalized groups,” read a statement from that district. “We acknowledge that some students have faced discrimination in our schools and we are committed to changing that through our equity work.” The statement also announced the first student census in the fall of 2021 that sought to review teaching resources for diversity and development of an equity action plan.
While OSTA acknowledged the efforts made thus far on behalf of 2SLGBTQ+ students, their letter also emphasized that the work is far from complete:
“If our school communities are to build on these gains, Catholic school boards cannot be passive. They must actively participate in this movement by both acknowledging and addressing the systemic discrimination and challenges that 2SLGBTQ+ students face on a daily basis in our schools.”
Amaral agreed and said he is proud of the Durham board for “continuing the dialogue in our faith community.” As he nears the end of his Catholic secondary education, he maintained that there is not a conflict between Catholic theology and inclusion of 2SLGBTQ+ people:
“‘I think it’s important to recognize that Church teachings are more than just the catechism. . .Church teachings are Jesus Christ, who stood for love and acceptance of all people.'”
—Angela Howard McParland (she/her), New Ways Ministry, March 30, 2022