Whitehorse’s Catholic schools have a new draft sexual orientation policy.
The new document, released for public review on Wednesday, would serve as a replacement for a former policy that called homosexuality a “disorder” and an “intrinsic moral evil” – words that echo the church’s official views on the matter.
Following a public outcry, Yukon’s education minister struck down the old policy in March, saying it may have contravened the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The controversial language found in the old policy is gone, although the new document still cites the same church documents that describe homosexual acts as sinful – the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a 1986 letter from the Church to its bishops are both listed as footnotes on the new policy.
The draft policy has been posted on the Catholic schools’ websites and will be discussed at a school council meeting in October.
Michele Royle, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the new document has been checked by government lawyers and is consistent with all applicable laws.
The new policy calls for all people to be treated with dignity and equality.
“It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs … The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law,” the policy reads.
Last winter one openly-gay Vanier student complained to the principal that someone had carved the word “faggot” into her locker. She alleged that no actions were taken to repair the locker for two weeks. The Education Department has faulted the government’s property management agency for the delay. The school principal of the time has since been given a new job within the Education Department.
The new policy, if approved, would prevent similar situations from happening again.
It lays out clear instructions for school administrators for dealing with reports of bullying. If a student or staff member reports an incident, administrators must investigate immediately and begin a process of reconciliation for all parties involved.
The privacy of students making disclosures about sexual identity must be protected at all times.
The old policy also forbade students from forming support gay-straight alliances, and also discouraged staff from using the words gay, straight, lesbian, queer or bisexual.
The new policy allows for a student support group. It requires that the group include the words ‘one heart’ in the name, but the words “gay/straight alliance” are no longer prohibited.
However, the policy also gives Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon, the author of the original controversial policy, a veto over any student group that he deems to be teaching or counseling anything that contravenes the teachings of the Catholic Church.
In March then-Education Minister Scott Kent said that any new policy drafted must meet Yukon and Canadian laws, including the Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He promised that the policy would be drafted in collaboration with the bishop, and committed department employees to help with its creation.
It’s unclear whether this happened. On Thursday, department spokeswoman Michele Royle couldn’t confirm whether Education employees had been involved in the drafting of the new policy, saying only that it had been vetted by the government’s lawyers and was in compliance.
According to the Department of Education’s website, the Catholic Episcopal Corporation wrote the document.
Neither deputy minister Valerie Royle nor Elaine Taylor, the current Education minister, were available for comment by press time. Paul Flaherty, the chair of Vanier’s school council, could not be reached either.
Bishop Gordon declined to answer questions about the document. Instead, he sent the News a prepared statement, saying, “We are pleased the government and the Church were able to work together to show the Catholic schools are a safe place for all students.
“This policy demonstrates that like all Yukon schools, Catholic Separate schools will not tolerate bullying, hatred or persecution of others. All students are children of God, and we will treat them as such.
“Catholic values are consistent with government priorities, as well as society’s growing awareness of the need to protect people with same-sex attraction from abuse and persecution.”
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