A decision to ban student gay-straight alliances earned strong criticism for the Halton Catholic District School Board days after the board's chair defended the ban by listing Nazi groups as another example of clubs not allowed in the district's schools.
The chair, veteran trustee Alice Anne LeMay, apologized for her statements but also said her words were taken out of context. She and her fellow trustees will reconsider the ban at a board policy committee meeting on Tuesday evening.
Trustees voted in November not to permit gay-straight alliances shortly after Ontario's Ministry of Education introduced a new inclusion and equity policy that required school boards to create such clubs if requested by a student. Ms. LeMay defended the decision last week when speaking with Xtra!, a gay and lesbian newspaper.
"We don't have Nazi groups either," Ms. LeMay was quoted as saying. "Gay-straight alliances are banned because they are not within the teachings of the Catholic Church."
Reached on Monday evening, Ms. LeMay said she didn't know yet whether she would vote to support the ban or to repeal it at Tuesday's meeting. Several new members who were elected to the board in October didn't participate in the November vote, including an openly gay trustee, 22-year-old Paul Marai.
Mr. Marai called the ban a divisive "waste of time" that distracted the board from the more important issue of education. He also expressed his support for Ms. LeMay.
"I do know her to be quite a tolerant and accepting individual," he said.
Opponents of the ban formed a Facebook group, Fight the Halton Catholic School Board's Ban on Gay Straight Alliances, and an online petition has collected more than 1,000 signatures. The controversy even caught the attention of celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, who posted a link to the Xtra! article and called Halton Catholic's decision "not cool."
This is the second time in less than a year that Catholic beliefs have clashed with education policies developed by Ontario's Ministry of Education. Last spring, a new sex-education curriculum that introduced the notion of same-sex families in early grades was pulled for revision after religious groups raised objections.
"The church teachings teach our children to accept everyone whether they're gay or lesbian, whether they're poor, black, white, whatever," said Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association. "But the church teaching also says that we don't condone the action of gays [and]lesbians."
Early last year, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario sent a letter to Catholic school boards raising concerns regarding the ministry's equity and inclusion policy. The letter urged the boards to consider groups other than gay-straight alliances, which "imply a self-identification with sexual orientation that is often premature among high-school students," according to minutes from the board's November meeting.
A motion that the policy be approved with an amendment that gay-straight alliances or clubs not be permitted and that "other types of dialogue groups that remain in conformity with Catholic teaching" be encouraged instead passed almost unanimously.
Mr. Marai is hopeful that the new group of trustees will have a more thorough discussion of the issue this time around, and ultimately undo that decision.
He is familiar with the kind of thinking that led to the ban: One voter took down his campaign lawn sign after learning the then-candidate for trustee was gay.
"You can't take it personally; people have their own ideas," he said. "That said, I think the Catholic community in Oakville is a very accepting and tolerant one."