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Ontario Catholics: Gay-straight alliances shouldn't be called gay-straight alliances

Photo of Cardinal Thomas Collins, taken February 29, 2012 at St. Michael’s Cathedral, from his Tumblr.

It really is fitting for this day and age: an argument on whether or not to tell the truth—whether or not to call a spade a spade.

In a time when unemployment insurance is called "employment insurance" and ministries of war are called Ministries of "Defense", it's not surprising that a motion to improve the lives of LGBTQ schoolchildren might be derailed by an Orwellian semantics debate.

On Friday, it was announced that a new change in Ontario legislation will allow gay-straight alliances (GSAs) to be called—gasp—"gay-straight alliances" in all schools, if the students wish it, including in Catholic schools. The change will affect the Accepting Schools Act, the provincial Liberals' anti-bullying measure, which previously allowed principals to veto student club names which included the word "gay".

On Monday, the Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins, expressed his outrage at the notion, crying that Ontario's Education Minister Laurel Broten was alienating students and disrespecting "diversity" with the change, according to the Toronto Star. With support from the Liberals and the NDP, the Act is expected to pass before June 7.

Diversity—Archbishop, I do not think that word means what you think it means.

"Please consider the implications for all when legislation is enacted that overrides the deeply held beliefs of any faith community in our province," wrote Collins in a statement (CBC), "and intrudes on its freedom to act in accord with its principles."

To put it another way, allowing GSAs to be called GSAs in Catholic schools infringes on the Catholic school board's right to pretend that LGBTQ students don't exist and don't need particular protection against bullying. This is despite the fact that they do.

According to Egale Canada's 2009 "Climate Survey on Homophobia", 73 per cent of LGBTQ students said they "felt unsafe at school"; 59 per cent reported they were verbally harassed, compared to seven per cent of heterosexual students; and 25 per cent said they had been physically harassed, while only eight per cent of non-LGBTQ students reported the same (CBC).

"If it happens to us, it can happen to you," Collins wrote, referring to other religious institutions. "When religious freedom becomes a second class right, you also will be affected."

Ontario Education Minister Laurel BrotenCollins' claiming of second-class citizenship is bold, not to mention offensive, when the real second-class citizens are kids who consider themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans.

"Schools need to be safe places for kids to be themselves, and for some kids, that means being able to name a club a gay-straight alliance," said Broten (pictured right).

The Accepting Schools Act was inspired by the recent suicides of gay teens in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada.

15-year-old Ottawa citizen Jamie Hubley committed suicide on October 14 of last year. His father, Ottawa city councillor Allan Hubley, said Jamie was bullied, as reported by the Huffington Post: "Discussing a 'Rainbow Club' that Jamie tried to start at his high school to promote acceptance, Allan Hubley said: 'The posters were torn down and he was called vicious names in the hallways and online.'"

"I don’t know if Draconian’s the word," pondered Collins before settling on "aggressive" as a label for the update on the legislation. Here's a hint, Archbishop: it's not. The word he was looking for was, instead, the opposite—"tolerant", or "empathetic", or "modern"—but I forgive him. One can only engage in doublespeak for so long before the meanings of all words are twisted into unrecognizable shapes.

What is Draconian is the way that he and the Catholic schools he represents want to make it even harder for gay students to talk about their struggles, when, as the bullying against Hubley and his proposed Rainbow Club shows, it is often already hard enough.

If Catholic school students can't use the word "gay" in the title of an anti-homophobia club, how are they supposed to feel comfortable using it anywhere else in school?

As Broten said, "If you can't name something you can't address it."

Religious freedom should never translate to homophobic discrimination.

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