Vanier Catholic Secondary School’s policy on sexual orientation is drawing fire from some parents and raising concerns about the Catholic Church getting public money to preach its views on homosexuality.
A document titled Living With Hope, Ministering By Love, Teaching In Truth outlines the policies teachers and staff at Vanier should follow with regard to students who have what the church calls “same-sex attraction.”
The 25-page policy, freely available on the Vanier website, supports the Catholic Church’s official position on homosexuality numerous times, calling it “intrinsically disordered and contrary to the natural law.” Even unexpressed same-sex urges are considered a disorder and are described as a “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”
“I was appalled at this document on the Catholic Church’s view,” Cynthia Matichak wrote in a letter to the News.
“I could not believe that in this day and age, a document as such is linked to a publicly funded Catholic school. As a more modern and liberal Catholic, I strongly disagree with the Catholic Church’s belief on homosexuality and all the more that it be linked to my child’s school website,” Matichak wrote.
The Vanier policy also appears to run counter to the Department of Education’s sexual orientation and gender identity policy, which was put in place last September.
That policy requires that schools must have proactive strategies and support groups like Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs, must identify specific staff as safe contacts for students questioning their sexual identity and provide “supportive, affirming” counselling in a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or queer and questioning) students.
Specifically, the department’s policy states that “language or behaviour that degrades or incites hatred, prejudice, discrimination or harassment towards students or employees on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identification will not be tolerated.”
Whitehorse’s bishop, Gary Gordon, wrote the Living With Hope document, and is also in charge of the Catholic schools’ religions curriculum.
“We had it vetted by the administration team of the three Catholic schools and the superintendant, and the policy people at the department. It’s the same support that every student would get regardless of whatever issue they’ve got. They are children of God. Everybody is loved and we try to bring the great message of our lord Jesus Christ to everybody,” Gordon said.
The Vanier document also discourages staff from using words like gay, lesbian, straight, or queer because, in the church’s view, that language legitimizes what it sees as an inherently illegitimate lifestyle. Students are free to self-identify with whatever language they choose but Gay-Straight Alliances are not allowed, Gordon said.
Both F.H. Collins and Porter Creek have GSA clubs, and the students from F.H. Collins will be attending the national GSA summit in Toronto in May.
“It’s important because for the queer students that we have here, I don’t find that high school is a very welcoming environment for anyone who is gay. With the GSA, everyone there is an ally. It’s easier to be open and yourself,” said 16-year-old Kristy Sibbeston, an ally (a self-identified straight person who supports and campaigns for gay rights) who works with the group.
Sibbeston said there is often a misunderstanding about what the terms of the LGBTQ community mean, and having a place to demystify them is important.
“I would say they’re important, but not many people know the terms. Outside the LGBTQ community, they don’t even know what it stands for. They don’t know gender-neutral, transgender or the other lesser-known ones. I think it’s important to make sure they know what those terms mean,” she said.
When F.H. Collins started its GSA last year, it was the first one North of 60. Since then other schools in the Yukon including Watson Lake and Haines Junction have jumped on board as well.
Instead of a GSA, Vanier and the church are working on rolling out One Heart, a support group that teaches the “Catholic perspective” on homosexuality.
“What that means is fundamentally the value and dignity of each person, their sexual orientation is not the totality of the person, the person is more. Using the words ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ ... well this is a reductionist definition of a person so we’re trying to create something that is giving people freedom and also inviting them to more,” Gordon said.
In his view, people who have “same-sex attraction” are no different than people who suffer from diabetes or nearsightedness. It’s just another trial God has chosen for those people, he said.
“We’re always dealing with people who are weak and sinners and so we have a whole process of reconciliation and healing and that’s the human condition,” Gordon said.
Valerie Royle, the Yukon’s deputy minister of education, said that balancing the department’s policy with the school’s right to a religious education is a difficult challenge.
“Yes, it’s a publicly funded system, but it’s also a religious system,” Royle said, adding that the right of Catholics to a Catholic education is protected in the Yukon Act, as is the Bishop’s right to oversee that curriculum. Attending any of the Catholic schools in Whitehorse is a choice, Royle said, and no student is forced into it.
“It’s a tough one. That’s the crux of it. You want a safe learning environment. The bishop agrees with that, and he agrees with our policy in that regard. And then we have some language like that that is available to children without counselling or an adult to walk them through it or explain it or whatever, and it’s difficult, and could be potentially harmful to them at that age and in that difficult time,” she said.
Royle said the issue was raised with the department at a parents meeting on Feb. 18, and she and Education Minister Scott Kent plan to meet with the bishop to review the school’s policy next week.
“Can we have both? I hope so. I think so. But we do need to have that discussion with the bishop,” Royle said.
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