TORONTO, May 24, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Toronto’s Catholic trustees rejected a motion to ban homosexual activist clubs in North America's largest Catholic school system on Thursday after a marathon meeting featuring over two hours of speeches, mostly supporting the ban.
The motion, put forward by new trustee Garry Tanuan, called on the board to rebuff the government’s mandate that schools allow students to set up gay-straight alliances, and instead support the anti-bullying framework developed by Ontario’s bishops, called Respecting Difference.
But the trustees voted against the motion 7-4, either because they supported GSAs or they feared that adopting it would set up a showdown with the provincial government.
Speakers opposing GSAs in the schools included Catholic parents, a former student, a former Catholic teacher, and pro-family advocacy groups such as Couples for Christ, the Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance, and Parents as First Educators.
Lined up against them were two groups of Catholic students in the board, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, two Catholic teachers, as well as three homosexual activist groups – the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and Queer Ontario.
Damian Goddard, a spokesman for the Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance and a Catholic broadcaster who was fired by Rogers Sportsnet after promoting the traditional definition of marriage, questioned the need to even debate GSAs in the Catholic context. The Catholic Church is clear on homosexuality, he said. “It can never be promoted. It cannot be promoted.”
“We stand for people who identify as gay, we stand strong with them, but we cannot stand for the promotion of that lifestyle,” he said.
Teresa Pierre, president of Parents as First Educators, said Catholics have dedicated themselves through the centuries to defending their freedom to pass on the faith, some even to the point of martyrdom. “Trustees here tonight will go through their own ‘trial by fire’ as they debate whether to act to protect the school system’s right to teach students our essential teachings on sexuality,” she said.
By pushing GSAs on Catholics, the provincial government is asking trustees to “abandon the faith,” she argued. “They are asking you to break the law by violating s. 93 of the Constitution, which enshrines the denominational rights of the Catholic schools.”
“A vote against the Tanuan motion is a vote against protecting the constitutional rights of the schools,” she continued. “We will be sure to remember your vote tonight during the next election. You can expect us to hold you accountable.”
Christina Alaimo, a former TCDSB student who is now in her fourth year at the University of Toronto, said the name GSA “attempts to define a human being based upon their sexuality” and insisted that trustees have the constitutional right to adapt provincial law to a Catholic context. In seeking to impose GSAs, then, the government itself is “breaking the law,” she argued.
Liza Lobo called the GSA provision in Bill 13 “an attack on our religious freedom” and said Catholics must ensure that “we do not stand by silently.” “Let us not be passive in this battle. … We must stand firm and principled,” she said.
Ann Alphonso, chair of the Catholic School Advisory Council at St. Bede, said GSAs violate Catholics’ “constitutional rights and freedoms.”
The Catholic ratepayers elected the trustees, she asserted, “because we took you at your word that you are faithful Catholics.” “We expect all of you as Catholics to defend the rights of our children with courage and zeal, rooted in the teachings of Christ and His Church,” she said.
The Catholic GSA promoters largely focused on arguing that the clubs are in harmony with Catholic teaching, maintaining that they uphold chastity and promote human dignity.
Dave Szollosy, representing the OECTA Toronto Secondary Unit, said GSAs are “safe places where students and staff feel safe and secure” and insisted they are not “dating clubs” or “an undermining of Catholic teaching on chastity and marriage.”
The teacher also supported his argument by pointing that Ontario’s bishops have indicated they can, in his words, “live with” Bill 13.
Michelle Blais, representing the Human Rights Committee of OECTA’s Toronto Secondary Unit, claimed the motion “sends a message of exclusion” and insisted that homosexuality is “clearly not a disease, nor is it a choice.”
A group of three students from the GSA at Francis Libermann Catholic High School began their presentation with a prayer for “equality” and “inclusivity,” thanking God for bringing people together “so we can stand up together for love.”
Two students from the GSA at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School told the trustees about the “positive impact” their club has had on the school, and supported their argument with statistics provided by the activist group Egale. “GSAs and Catholicism are not mutually exclusive,” they said. “Gay is not synonymous with the act of sex. … We do not discuss or promote any act of sex.”
Student trustee Andrew Walker said he was one of the few in the room to have attended a GSA meeting, and based on that experience, asserted that they “are aligned with Catholic values” and that “chastity is taught.”
Sexuality “is not the purpose. The purpose is to make our students feel safe,” he said.
The secular activist groups focused on claiming that rejecting GSAs would violate Bill 13 and enshrine discrimination against homosexuals, which, they argue, would go against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Noa Mendelsohn Aviv of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association expressed frustration at even debating the topic of GSAs because, in her view, the issue had already been dealt with in recent years.
Nick Mule of Queer Ontario said the motion “proposes to instill systemic discrimination” and passing it would “send you down a path of adversarial litigation” by challenging the government.
The seven trustees who voted against the motion were: Peter Jakovcic, Ann Andrachuk, Sal Piccininni, Maria Rizzo, Jo-Ann Davis, Barbara Poplawski, and Nancy Crawford.
The four who voted for it were Garry Tanuan, John Del Grande, Angela Kennedy, and Patrizia Bottoni.
The motion almost did not even make it to the floor after an attempt to quash it last month by chair Ann Andrachuk and Director of Education Bruce Rodrigues. Andrachuk had removed Tanuan’s notice of motion from the agenda on the grounds that the motion violated Bill 13, but a majority of trustees banded together to oppose her, charging that it was anti-democratic for her to make that decision unilaterally.
Contact the Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees here
To contact the Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins:
Office of the Archbishop
Catholic Pastoral Centre
1155 Yonge Street
Toronto, Ontario, M4T 1W2
Telephone: (416) 934-0606, ext. 609
Fax: (416) 934-3452
Email: [email protected]