This week, Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, issued a long statement protesting against the Liberal Ontario government’s announcement that its anti-bullying legislation, Bill 13, will include specific language protecting school groups supporting gay students. In an important reversal, the bill now states that the students must be allowed to call their clubs Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) or a similar name if they so choose.
No more euphemisms. If anyone’s interested, the names The Sensitive Youth Association, The Just-Haven’t-Met-the-Right-Girl-Yet Choristers and The Very Close-Knit Society of Right Girls are now up for grabs.
Sadly, Cardinal Collins seems to view this admirable move, born of long consultation with students, as tantamount to forcing the junior kindergarten to hold story time down in the catacombs. “When religious freedom becomes a second-class right, you also will eventually be affected,” he ominously warned members of other religious groups.
If there’s a God, and he happens to be on the side of the Catholics, I’m pretty sure he responded by saying something like “Nooooo!” and banging his head against a cloud. Clearly, if one had a vested interest in keeping the Catholic school system alive, one would seek to draw as few comparisons as possible between Catholics, who receive $7-billon annually in provincial funding for their schools, and other religions, whose schools receive none.
The Cardinal may not get as much sympathy as he is expecting from the general public on this matter: When it comes to religious freedom, most people draw a clear distinction between you going to whatever church picnic you choose and the rest of us being forced to cater it.
I imagine there are groups out there who would gladly call their school Our Lady of RuPaul to get a piece of the Catholic-school budget, so it might not go over well to all, but add yourself to the long list of Catholic martyrs because you’re being told that it’s impossible to create a welcoming, inclusive, safe environment for gay students if you won’t even let them use the word “gay.”
This might be the wrong fight to pick: Polls show that most people in Ontario support the existence of GSAs.
GSAs don’t make kids gay. No one says, “I don’t have anything after school on Tuesdays, and I can’t play chess. I think I’ll be gay!”
These clubs are being founded by students who have specifically identified the bullying of gay students as a distinct issue and who aim to offer peer support because most people, and ironically Catholics are very big on this one, are against suicide – which is too often the outcome of being gay, alone and bullied at school.
I’m skeptical of Cardinal Collins’s claim that Catholic schools can be “loving and welcoming places for everyone” when the Pastoral Guidelines distributed by bishops to aid Catholic schools in dealing with issues of sexuality state that “sexual activity which is outside marriage cannot be condoned, and is taught by the church to be immoral. This includes masturbation, fornication and adultery, and sexual activity with a person of the same sex.”
Catholic doctrine is – and once again, they have been very frank about this – entirely incompatible with the idea that gay sexuality is as valid as any other form of human sexuality. Therefore, the teachings of that church are incompatible with equality as defined by our laws. In a secular society, this conversation should have ended 15 years ago.
By fighting so hard against its own students’ compassionate impulses to help one another, the Catholic school board is hastening a battle it will inevitably lose.
I don’t believe for a second that the Cardinal, or most other Catholics, want gay kids to be tormented in their schools. The problem is that dealing with the issue “using methods that are in harmony with the faith we cherish,” as the Cardinal asks to be allowed to do, means that an exceptionally vulnerable minority will be told that it is a sin to act on or even fantasize about any attraction to a member of the same sex at any point in their lifetime.
Going to school every day under the weight of being a walking, breathing sin is bound to cause hopelessness. And when we invest in education, a state of hopelessness is the very opposite of what we hope to achieve.
These young people aren’t asking merely for tolerance of something church authorities deem to be a sin. They’re not asking for non-sinners’ prayers to be aimed at healing their most profound longings – in essence, at who they are. They’re asking to be safe, equal and gay, gay, gay.
Say it a few times. You’ll get used to it.