A formal alliance of homosexual and heterosexual high-school students has become the club that dare not speak its name, in some of Canada's publicly funded Roman Catholic schools. The clubs are to be closeted within larger groups known as diversity or social-justice clubs. This is plain wrong, and destructive. It is an exercise in discrimination, and it is not made any more tolerable because it occurs in faith-based schools.
In Alberta, at least one gay-straight alliance exists in a Catholic school, and there are at least two in Saskatchewan Catholic schools, according to Kris Wells, a researcher with the University of Alberta's Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services. But they don't go by that name. They're called diversity clubs. And Mr. Wells refuses to reveal what schools or even what school boards have such alliances - an indication that it is not safe for "an alliance," by any name, to come out.
In Ontario, where some Catholic students have openly attempted to create gay-straight alliances, a principal insisted they could not, saying that it would encourage students to identify their sexuality at too young an age.
The Catholic schools are entitled to their sincerely held views on how sexuality develops. But without a doubt, students who identify themselves as gay in high school are at much higher risk for suicide than those who do not. They have traditionally been targets for bullying and ostracism. And here is a positive step against all that - a quintessentially Canadian, hardly radical step - an alliance.
An alliance implies acceptance, bridge-building, mutual understanding. Limiting the students' right to form an alliance is a blatant and quite extreme violation of freedom of assembly. That freedom, in this case, is about breaking out of one's isolation, an isolation that has harmed so many gay youth.
At its heart, the problem is that the Catholic school boards in question would like to believe that they are insulated from the individual rights protections in the Canadian Constitution; that, in effect, they are an equality-free zone. A religious-school permit is not a licence to discriminate - a point that political leaders, up to and including provincial premiers, need to communicate.