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Ontario's Catholic schools may have to allow "gay-straight" alliances

May 26, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Catholic schools in Ontario might have to allow "gay-straight alliances" under an anti-bullying law, according to an announcement Friday.

Originally the bill would have allowed Catholic schools to focus more broadly on bullying and call the clubs something else, but an amendment to the bill would change that so religious as well as non-religious schools would have to allow the gay-straight alliances. The bill is supposed to come up for a vote in the legislature there before June 7. Gay-straight alliances are groups of gay and straight students at high schools who support efforts to end bullying of gays and homophobia in various ways. Some Catholic groups in Canada have opposed the changes to this bill, though others are in support of it, including the Ontario English Teachers Catholic Association and some student activists who attend Catholic schools there and weren't allowed to call their anti-bullying school groups "gay-straight alliances."

The Catholic Church has traditionally taught that acting on homosexual urges is "disordered" but gay Catholics are to be treated with dignity and respect as valuable human beings. It teaches that gays are supposed to be celibate. Presumably the schools would not be required to approve of gay-straight alliances that encourage either gay or straight teens to be sexually active. The Church has actively opposed attempts to legalize gay marriage as well in different locales. Gay marriage is legal throughout Canada.

Since Catholic and other religious schools in Canada receive some funding from the state, unlike religious schools in the United States which are funded privately, this sort of ruling would be unlikely to impact American Catholic schools. However, more schools and state governments are looking at ways to get tougher on bullying and gay and lesbian teenagers often experience bullying in schools, which can face costly lawsuits if they fail to protect those kids. Rolling Stone had an article in February about a surge in teen suicides in Anoka, Minnesota in 2009 and 2010, including that of Samantha Johnson, a 13-year-old girl originally from North Dakota.

Anoka had passed a policy about a decade earlier requiring that teachers take a neutral position on gay and lesbian issues, speaking neither in support or against. As a result, when some of the kids there were bullied unmercifully, teachers apparently did not respond effectively. Gay teachers kept their mouths shut out of fear of being fired and, when they did reprimand the kids, told them essentially just to "be nice." They responded far more forcefully and specifically when minority children were bullied for their race.

Of the kids who killed themselves in the Anoka school district, several were gay or were perceived to be gay. The school district settled a lawsuit filed by six students and their families in March and is now taking steps to better train teachers to deal with bullying of lesbian, gay and transgender students and to review district policies. The six students who sued were to receive a lump sum of $270,000 from the district's insurance company.

The tragedies in Anoka seem to be what the Canada legislation is trying to prevent. Gay-straight alliances even at Catholic high schools might be a good idea to help cut down on bullying and the risk of suicide.


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