Saturday, January 26, 2008

Catholic School Boards ignore queer students, reject participating in groundbreaking homophobia student survey...

When I was a closeted, Catholic high school student in Guelph in the 1980s, I would've liked to know that those running my school system cared. It's hard enough getting through high school, as we know. But for gay youth, it can be excruciatingly painful. As an invisible minority, we suffer in complete silence, trying desperately to appear normal and average, when inside we're going through intense turmoil.

When we should be discovering ourselves and exploring what it means to be a human being without having to live with the responsibility of adulthood, it's awful so many queer youth find themselves hiding and lying. I used to calculate my every gesture, my every word, in order to make sure no one could detect my gay side. I was an expert in denial. I often look back now and wish things had been different.

Homophobia was a terrible problem in my high school. Anti-gay jokes and vitriol were widespread. Staying closeted was the safest way to survive the experience, although I was harassed from time to time for seeming a little queer. I suspect most queer youth still remain in the closet for the duration of their high school years, although we do know of many brave souls who tell their fellow students the truth. Still, those who come out in high school take huge risks, possibly subjecting themselves to violence and harassment.

Recently, EGALE Canada (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) announced it would conduct a major student survey of homophobia in Canadian schools, partnering with the University of Winnipeg. Education Professor Catherine Taylor is heading a research team that hopes to hear from 10,000 Canadian high school students by June of this year.

"It's a huge issue in education. People have been dragging their heels, because it's a hot-button issue," Taylor said.

"We're trying to get a really good snapshot of the environment in schools right now," Taylor said. "There has been a lack of good data on the situation in Canadian schools."

Sadly, not all school boards are interested in exploring and alleviating the personal hells their queer students are experiencing under their watch. The CBC ran this story yesterday detailing how two Ontario Catholic school boards (plus one in Alberta) rejected allowing their students to participate in the groundbreaking survey.

One rejection letter came from the chair of the Wellington Catholic District School Board in Guelph, my hometown. Rev. Dennis Noon wrote in capital letters "Not interested thank you," and later told CBC News that homophobia is not a big issue for his board.

Really, Reverend Noon? You don't know what's happening in your schools, I must say.

This brings up yet again the touchy question of mixing religion and public education. This kind of knee-jerk rejection by Catholic school trustees reminds me of how the Catholic school board in Oshawa handled the case of Marc Hall in 2002. Openly gay, Hall wanted to take his then-boyfriend with him to their school prom, but his principal and then the board's trustees told him no, worried giving him this freedom would violate the precepts of the Catholic faith. Hall won in the end when a court injunction forced the board to allow Hall to bring his boyfriend to the prom.

Although the Hall case never made it to trial (as Hall dropped the case a few years later), the court injunction provided some insight into how our courts view the rights of students versus the rights of Catholic school boards, at least in Ontario. Catholic school boards in Ontario are publicly-funded, after all. Thus they should have a responsibility to adhere to Ontario's human rights laws, not just Catholic doctrine.

By allowing homophobia to go unchallenged in their schools, to the point where they won't even let students participate in a survey like this, these Catholic school trustees have once again let their queer students down. Shame.

If Catholic boards keep this up, support for abolishing these separate boards in Ontario will only continue to grow. As we know, the status quo in Ontario - whereby the public funds one public system alongside one Catholic system - is discriminatory and unfair to other faiths. As most Ontarians reject the John Tory notion of expanding religious education, the only other acceptable option is to abolish the Catholic system in Ontario in favour of one public system for all.


Paula Conning said...

Rev. Noon from the WCDSB sounds just like President Abbadinajad from Iran, "We don't have a problem we gays, but we don't have any in Iran". We need to stop publicly funding this discriminatory school system.

Simon said...

Good post Matt. And well done for telling people what homophobia meant to YOU. Because even if it's not pleasant to remember those helps other people understand them.
And yup...secular schools are the ONLY way to go.