The NDP’s education critic is calling on Education Minister Scott Kent to ensure a new policy on homosexuality is put in place at Vanier Catholic Secondary School, even though the bishop is refusing to do so.
“We have failed parents and children at the school. I mean it’s our obligation to provide a safe, caring, welcoming and inclusive place and we haven’t done it. We as a territory have failed the kids,” said Jim Tredger.
On Wednesday, Bishop Gary Gordon told CBC Radio that even though the Education Department told him to remove the school’s controversial policy from the Vanier’s website, the school will still continue to teach the church’s views on homosexuality. The guidelines, which call homosexuality a “disorder” and gay relationships an “intrinsic moral evil,” will continue to be used as a religious document.
The bishop has said if this upsets some gay students, they are free to go to school elsewhere.
“That concerns me very much,” said Tredger. “My understanding is that the minister had taken responsibility and said that he would ensure the policy was changed and that the children were provided with a caring atmosphere. We accept the notion of religious freedom, but it is unacceptable to condemn or demean students based on their sexual orientation.
“One of the things that stood out in this for me was the strength of the young men and women who came forward and said ‘This is what’s happening.’ That was inspirational. As a system we can’t hang them out to dry. We need to ensure that there is a new and meaningful policy that supports the students and teachers,” he said.
Kent was unavailable for comment by press time, and the bishop did not return calls for comment.
Several former Vanier students have told the News that they are outraged that their beloved school has taken a more conservative approach to religion.
Ruth Nielson is one of them. She graduated from Vanier in 2007 and said her time there was a great experience.
“Overall, it was really good. I enjoyed it. I mean, high school is hard for all students, especially in Whitehorse, but all my teachers were always really supportive. As far as religion and certain people’s beliefs, they always seemed really understanding and tolerant of everyone,” Nielson said.
She said students were never pressured to fall in line with Catholic teachings on homosexuality or any other moral issue, and it was certainly never preached in class. Even one of Nielson’s teaching assistants had a same-sex life partner, and it didn’t appear to be a problem.
“I was surprised that they would formalize it like that. There was never anything official like that. It was a Catholic school, but we were never told that we had to be Catholic. Many students were there not because they identified as Catholic, but because their parents had put them there or that’s where their older siblings had gone.
“I’m grossly ashamed of the school’s policy on same-sex relationships. I am sad to think that youth may have lost the school as a place of refuge from the dismissal or negativity they may feel at home,” said Nielson.
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