Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Words in conflict: “Gay-straight alliance” vs. “Catholic”


Sometimes, writing about writing and words brings you right to the zeitgeist (there, that’s one for the bucket list: using “zeitgeist” on my blog.)

Bullying is in the news almost constantly. News reports about children committing suicide are depressingly common. High schools are finally taking real measures to stop bullying. And now the Ontario provincial parliament is debating Bill 13, the proposed Accepting Schools Act.

The bill has hit a snag, as the Catholic Church in Ontario has spoken out against a single line in the government’s bill, which would specifically allow student groups to call themselves “gay-straight alliances.” These groups, so-named, already exist in public schools in Ontario. (Breaking news: the Ontario Provincial Parliament has delayed debate on Bill 13; it was supposed to have third and final reading today, May 30, but that’s been postponed, and the government has not announced when it will happen.)

Thomas Cardinal Collins, President of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, issued a long, rambling statement on the legislation to the government. His problem with the government’s bill is that it specifically mentions bullying of homosexual students and mentions gay-straight alliances. “Certainly that type of bullying is wrong, and must never be tolerated,” the letter states.

“But there are many young people who suffer bullying, and most of them are not represented in the category given special emphasis in the bill [“LGBTTIQ,” or “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, two-spirited, intersexed, queer and questioning” people]. The bill should address the way in which our schools may be made more welcoming to all students. None who suffer should be ignored.”

Cardinal Collins proposes that the legislation should not identify “a limited number of highlighted groups,” but instead allow schools to address bullying “at the local level.”

He adds “each school should follow a way in harmony with its underlying principles...Catholic schools have their own highly developed ways of attaining the goal of creating a welcoming school...based upon the Gospel principles which are the foundation of Catholic education.”

At a press conference, the Cardinal asked "Why are Catholics and Catholic schools not free to attain the same goal, of love and respect for everybody, not allowed to attain the same goals in their own different ways?" (CBC News) He also warned against legislation that “overrides the deeply held beliefs of any faith community.”

One principle of the Catholic Church, promoted in Catholic schools in Ontario, is that homosexuality is immoral. Interestingly, the Cardinal never said that.

What the Catholic school boards, Catholic school trustees and others in the Ontario Catholic community want is more “inclusive” groups, which discourage any form of bullying. Commendable.

However, they are also objecting to the term “gay-straight alliance.” Catholic schools in Ontario have expressed their desire to support and welcome gay students. But they do not want to allow the word “gay” in names of school clubs.

This is a complex debate, and the Cardinal has chosen his words extremely carefully. His submission to the Ontario legislature never uses the words “homosexuality” or “gay,” nor does it explicitly discuss the “gay-straight alliance” name.

What’s your take on this? Is the Catholic Church still so terrified of homosexuality? Or are they justified in their opposition to Ontario law?

Read the full submission from the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario.

Read the text of the proposed Accepting Schools Act.


  1. It would be so much easier if the Christian religion weren't antithetical to the teachings of Christ. Unfortunately, Jesus was so far ahead of where human consciousness has now sat for several thousand years,that being misunderstood was almost a given. Let's face it; Jesus wasn't a Christian. But meanwhile back at the ranch, having lived down here for 16 years now, I do so appreciate the Canadian bent for reasonableness and tolerance. Good luck with that issue. Children need to be able to feel safe and acceptable somewhere.

    1. I'm not trying to make a plug, Christina, but the thinking in your comments also informs my first novel. Okay, that was a plug.

  2. I don't think they're "terrified of homosexuality." I think they're afraid of having their rights taken away. As private religious schools, they should have the right to follow their religious laws. This bill threatens that right.

    1. How is allowing a word injurious to religious rights? Make no mistake: the Catholic Church is opposing a law against bullying of children because it includes the word "gay." Without actually using the word "gay," the Cardinal has objected to the term "gay-straight alliance."

  3. Anonymous2:56 PM

    A small posting would never be able to express my detailed and complicated answer to this, so I am sure there will be misunderstandings. But, I'll give it a shot.

    Each sub-culture (faith separates into sub-culture) has the right to be who they are. As an Anthropologist, we study cultures & subcultures around the globe and through time. Unless it involves the loss of physical life, we can not and do not interfere, it is unethical.

    The Christian church has taken a beating in the last few decades in reference to their seemingly archaic beliefs. But, they are just as legitimate as any other faith based belief system and we have to tolerant of them as much as we expect them to be tolerant of others.

    The basis of argument, if I can poorly sum it up is this;

    The bible, as it has been interpreted by scholars for years (and they will never except new interpretations, that isn't the avenue to go. Trying to re-word the Bible is only offensive) condemns homosexuality (as it does many other things people participate in that are never debated).

    Science, namely people like me, Anthropologists have known for years that not only in the wild (among animals), but in people, sexual relations with the same sex is is common and never debated. In fact, sex between males is natural and sex with a female is un-natural-to the point where it is only allowed for procreation and must be approached after extreme rituals.Woman is considered evil.

    Here comes the slippery slope- The same research that shows this also reveals that sex with children is also common and 'natural' among animals and people in their most natural, un-influenced states.

    SCARY to me and others in the western Judeo/Christian world.

    Something I don't think is morally right and most people don't! And, the church knows this information and that is the natural course this argument will take if they officially 'accept' homosexuality as normal.

    That is what they are scared of, well most of them.

    I don't personally accept homosexuality as natural, even though there is evidence, but I am bound by my faith beliefs-BUT I do support the efforts of the alliance to combat bullying and prejudice. Even though my faith beliefs do not accept this, all are children of God, all humans have the right to exist and be treated fairly without reservation. We need to work together for the common good of humanity-the faiths that we each hold onto for our religious expression are personal-ie. our personal path to God, our eternal journey...etc... not to bang others over the head with or treat different.

    With millions of religions & cultures, you'd spend your life hitting everyone around you.

    Live in peace.


    1. I'm not trying to hit anyone or change anyone's beliefs. I'm just pointing out how unquestioning faith in any set of beliefs postulated by someone else unavoidably leads you to a conflict between those imposed beliefs and your own internal ethics or morals.

      In Canada, tolerance is now accepted as one of those unarguable tenets. Or at least, a lot of people and institutions claim to support tolerance - including Catholic school boards in Ontario.

      The Catholic school boards receive funding from the government - which means, from all Ontario taxpayers, Catholic or not, gay or straight. Ontario has laws about tolerance and non-discrimination based on sexuality, among other things. But that's not a debate I want to get into here.

      I just wanted to point out that people and institutions that claim to be open and tolerant and even loving (the Church claims it loves everyone) has taken a big stumble. Because it does not tolerate homosexuality, and since its values are the values of the Catholic school board, it can't tolerate even the use of the word "gay." So there you have it: "Catholic" in conflict with "gay."

  4. Perhaps they are saying God loves the whole AND the distinct among them.