Jamie Hubley’s suicide was painful for everyone and has led to much soul-searching in his school, parish and across Canada. Millions read the last words posted on his blog (reproduced here as he wrote them): “This hurts too much. How do you even know It will get better? Its not.”
He was a 15-year-old high-school student who was being bullied because he was gay. Although he was Catholic, he attended a non-Catholic school. His funeral at Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church in Ottawa was packed. Politicians of all stripes, celebrities, and sports figures banded together to create a series of “It Gets Better” videos that were shown on public television and in schools across the province. Within weeks of the teenager’s death, the Ontario Government introduced new anti-bullying legislation specifically dealing with bullying around sexual identity. The legislation allows school principals to expel bullies and compels Ontario’s state schools to allow pupils to create “Gay-Straight Alliances” (GSAs). These are essentially youth-led school-based clubs with gay and heterosexual members who socialise together. They have long been advocated by gay organisations as a way of getting rid of homophobia and are being formed by
How alliances can be divisive
A new law in the Canadian province of Ontario aimed at eliminating homophobia by allowing schoolchildren to set up“gay-straight”alliances, writes Peter Kavanagh, has put Catholic schools on a collision course with the provincial Government pupils in schools across North America.
Ontario’s Premier Dalton McGuinty acknowledged that Jamie Hubley’s death was the spur for the legislation, saying: “This is a way to draw what painful lessons we might from those terrible tragedies, and to give some meaning to those tragedies, by taking concrete steps to make our schools safer for all our kids.”
No sooner had the legislation been introduced than the question of whether it would apply to Ontario’s Catholic school system arose. Ontario’s parallel school systems, Catholic and secular, both receive public funding but the Catholic school system is run by the Church and has frequently rejected demands that gay-straight alliances be allowed within Catholic schools. When opposition members in the legislature asked if Catholic schools would be forced to allow the formation of the alliances, Mr McGuinty, a Catholic, held out hope that GSAs would be acceptable to Catholic schools if their name did not include the word “gay”.
“It may not be that name that they use, but the important thing is we’re going to have that kind of a supportive group there available in all our schools,” he said.
The legislation suggests that the name of the alliance will be up to the students involved and makes no specific mention of Catholic schools. Critics immediately
Jamie Hubley, whose suicide has led to new legislation opposed by some Catholic organisations in Canada countered that if Catholic schools shrink from allowing students to use the word “gay” to describe their alliance, they cannot credibly end the bullying of children who use the term to identify themselves.
The new law is expected to pass into law in spring but Catholic school boards show no sign of relenting over the matter. The Institute for Catholic Education sets the rules for the operation of Catholic Schools in Ontario and in 2004 issued a “Pastoral Guideline to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation”. In the document’s introduction, Bishop Paul-André
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scholarships but site-based higher education such as the ACU programme, affirming a more developmental approach to higher educational provision, encouraging peace education as an integral component and declaring tertiary education for refugees to be not a luxury but a necessity for good leadership both in the camps and in the free Burma of the future.
As for Robert, he, at great risk to his life, is using the leadership skills and critical thinking faculties he learned in the course, leading teams of backpack paramedics who take medical supplies to internally displaced people in the areas of conflict within Burma itself. When I met him on my last visit to Thailand, he told me how the course had taught him not just to think but also to re-evaluate his attitude to the 60-year-old war being waged between the Burmese military and the Karen National Liberation Army and how he was now in favour of political negotiation to bring about a durable peace. His accessing higher education changed his view of reality.
If the present reforms in Burma really augur a democratic future, then ACU refugee graduates such as Robert will have been given the intellectual and ethical tools to contribute to a socially just society in one of the world’s most repressive states.
■ Duncan MacLaren, a former secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, coordinates the ACU Refugee Programme. Durocher acknowledged that the Church has “not always been sensitive to the particular needs of students with a same-sex orientation”. Durocher also called for an end to “practices like bullying and unjust discrimination” and for the creation of new practices for meeting the “special needs” of “students with a same-sex attraction”.
But when a Canadian gay publication, Xtra, questioned Gerald Casey, the superintendent of education for the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board, Mr Casey made it clear that GSAs were a step too far: “I wouldn’t say we ban them. We support student clubs that support inclusiveness, especially for students who might otherwise feel marginalised. But all our clubs must, however, adhere to the Catholic teachings and values.”
Asked by Xtra whether students at a Bruce-Grey Catholic school start a GSA, the answer was a firm “no”.
The Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association has publicly declared the term “Gay-Straight Alliance” to be controversial and associated with homosexual acts. However, there are signs that many Catholic teachers disagree. Kevin O’Dwyer, the president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, has said his members welcome the new law.
“School cultures need to be sensitive, welcoming and responsive to every student. Our members will be pleased with the efforts of the Government to ensure students get the support they need to succeed, promote understanding and prevent bullying,” said Mr O’Dwyer, adding that when it comes to forming an alliance “what the students call it is not an issue”.
Laurel Broten, Ontario Minister of Education, is equally adamant that names matter and that the Catholic schools will have to go along with the initiative. “If students want a GSA, it must be provided. I’m confident our Catholic schools will work with students on this. ‘Gay-straight alliance’ is language and terminology we all understand and support. Students will call the groups what they want.”
Some Catholics believe that anti-bullying legislation is a cloak for another agenda. Suresh Dominic of Campaign Life Catholics has written that the bill will force Catholic schools to “celebrate” homosexuality and describes the bill as a charade.
“McGuinty knows that Catholic schools have the constitutional right, which the courts would uphold, to reject his anti-family propaganda and is hoping his pressure tactics will prevent Catholics from asserting those rights,” said Mr Dominic. What will happen in two months’ time when the first student in a Catholic school uses the new law to ask for the right to establish a “Gay-Straight Alliance” remains to be seen.
■ Peter Kavanagh is a freelance journalist.
RENEWAL FOR MINISTRY
AT DALGAN PARK IMU Institute, Dalgan Park, Navan, Ireland
PROGRAMME 2012 The Renewal for Ministry Programmes at Dalgan Park offer the opportunity for personal growth and renewal in a welcoming and supportive environment to those who are engaged in Christian ministry. They also provide space for those who are in transition in ministry to pause and reflect on the call of the next stage of life. Together these programmes provide a substantial sabbatical renewal opportunity, offering: • Holistic renewal in a multicultural community of women and men; • The opportunity to develop a more contemplative approach to life; • Individual accompaniment on the journey of self-renewal; • Up-dating in Scripture and Theology; • Space for rest and relaxation in a lovely parkland setting; • An emphasis on environmental concern and care for the earth; • Opportunities to visit ancient sites such as Newgrange, Glendalough, Clonmacnoise, Aran Islands, etc; Autumn Term The Faith and Mission Renewal Programme (17 September - 14 December 2012) This is a twelve-week residential renewal programme. Its principal aim is to provide an opportunity for personal/spiritual renewal. It has been found to be very helpful both for those who are looking for sabbatical renewal and for those returning from or preparing for, mission overseas or at home. Winter/Spring Term The Growth for Ministry Renewal Programme (14 January - 31 March 2013) This is a further residential renewal programme, similar in aim and methodology to the Faith and Mission Programme. For further information, contact us at: IMU Institute, Dalgan Park Navan, Co. Meath, Ireland Phone (046) 9021525 Ext. 332 Fax: (046) 9073726 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.imudalganpark.com
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