January 31, 2011

TORONTO — Despite pressure from activists and media to establish gay-straight alliances in their schools, several Ontario Catholic school boards remain adamant that they will support gay students in ways that reflect Catholic values.

The issue of gay-straight alliances has become a source of controversy following highly publicized attacks on the Halton Catholic board's equity policy.

The board had banned such alliances in November but, facing media criticism, a board committee voted Jan. 11 to reverse that decision.

Paul Marai, 22, an openly gay Halton Catholic school trustee, has said the groups are needed to promote a safe environment for gay and lesbian students.

Gay-straight alliances are clubs where homosexual high-school students can discuss gay issues, tolerance and diversity with heterosexual students. The concern among Catholic educators is that in the United States these clubs have often become forums for gay-rights activism.

Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association, said Catholic schools already have a strong record of providing a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students, including gay and lesbian students, and the alliances are not needed.


Kirby said while OCSTA supports the anti-homophobia objectives of gay-straight alliances, it has "concerns about separating out students experiencing certain vulnerabilities."

"Kids can be supported in many other ways," she said.

One such way is through diversity clubs or committees that incorporate Catholic values in their approach to tackle discrimination against all students. That strategy is endorsed by Catholic education groups.

The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, in a Jan. 14 statement, supported the objective of keeping students safe from bullying, but reiterated opposition to the single strategy of gay-straight alliances.

Meanwhile, Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, one of Ontario's largest Catholic boards, said that, although it does not ban gay-straight alliances, it will implement support groups that reflect Catholic values.

Spokesperson Bruce Campbell said the board has a "multi-faceted approach" to helping students with same-sex attractions. This includes chaplaincy teams, guidance counsellors and social workers "to provide a safe and caring environment for all students."

"We would look to provide a support group that is Catholic in nature. The gay-straight alliance is not Catholic in nature," he said.