Catholic archdiocese weighs in on side of inclusivity as school board battles over gender issues

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The Archdiocese of Toronto — the Catholic Church’s spiritual leadership in the GTA — has weighed in on the side of inclusivity after a much heated debate at the Catholic school board over gender issues.

A report will be submitted at a Toronto Catholic District School Board meeting Thursday evening saying the archdiocese would support the board in changing its code of conduct policy to include controversial terms — gender expression, gender identity, family status and marital status.

Those terms are identified in the Human Rights Code as prohibited grounds of discrimination.

“The archdiocese will accept (the terms),” the report reads, provided that the amended policy “be interpreted through the lens of the Catholic faith as articulated by the teachings of the church and protected in legislation.”

Still, it will be up to the 12 municipally elected trustees to vote on what to do. The report notes the matter is “urgent” and “time-sensitive” because school boards were supposed to have updated their codes by Nov. 4 to include the language, as directed by the Ministry of Education.

But the issue has been mired in controversy for months and has deeply divided the TCDSB community, leading to heated public debates, with some making hostile comments about the LGBTQ community and calling on trustees to “stop this Luciferian nonsense” and “repent.”

The report is the first time that the archdiocese’s views on the matter have been made public. The archdiocese, led by Thomas Cardinal Collins, is made up of nearly 2 million Catholics, 225 parishes and four missions.

The report is the result of ongoing discussions behind the scenes, between the archdiocese and board staff in trying to come up with language for TCDSB policy that follows the law and respects Catholic teaching.

In its report, board staff propose wording for the policy that it says is “interpreted through the lens of the Catholic faith” as articulated by church teachings, and also in keeping with the Education Act, the ministry directive, and the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Under the section called Standards of Behaviour, the proposed language states all members of the school community must “respect and treat others fairly, regardless of, for example, race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.”

The report will be submitted at the Nov. 7 meeting of the Student Achievement and Well-Being, Catholic Education and Human Resources Committee. Sources say it’s likely a motion will be introduced by a trustee to adopt the inclusive language, which would be voted on by the committee that is comprised of all 12 trustees.

If adopted, it would still need to be rubber-stamped at future meetings, but the Thursday vote would reveal how the board feels about the issue.

During debates in public meetings, some have argued including terms such as gender identity and gender expression are counter to Catholic doctrine that stipulates there are just two sexes, and that Catholic schools should use denominational rights guaranteed under the Constitution to keep them from having to adopt the language.

Meanwhile, others have noted that the Catholic Church teaches that all individuals are children of God and that the board is provincially funded and must abide by legislation.

Before the Thursday meeting, board chair Maria Rizzo, who supports including the terms, said “allowing people to ramp up prejudices above fairness, equity and inclusiveness … threatens the very principle of public Catholic education.”

“How can we tolerate, any reason for exclusion, any excuse for discrimination? We cannot,” she told the Star. “There are severe consequences for all our children when, through the action and inaction of the TCDSB, we fail to stand up for all our students and families.”

Trustee Norm Di Pasquale, who’s also supportive, says most of his constituents back him up.

“They want a progressive Catholic board,” he told the Star, adding “students overwhelmingly support inclusive language.”

In recent weeks, trustees have received emails from both sides. Those opposed to the terms have warned trustees that they risk “eternal damnation” and should resign if they support inclusion.

The matter has been debated at TCDSB meetings since the spring, with members of the public making impassioned pleas on both sides.

The issue surfaced after the ministry sent school boards a directive in October 2018 saying it had updated its provincial code of conduct, expanding the grounds under which no one can be discriminated against to include the four terms. The memo noted that board policies must be consistent with the province’s and adhere to the Ontario Human Rights Code.

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In August, the ministry issued another directive, again making note of the provincial code of conduct and the new Ontario-wide cellphone ban — it came into effect on Monday.

When asked about the controversy last week, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce told reporters he expects that “every child, irrespective of their differences, can see themselves reflected in schools, and, more important, that (school boards) will adhere to the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

That night, a TCDSB subcommittee, comprised of a handful of trustees, passed a motion that excluded the language, but affirms, in part, “that all people are created in the image and likeness of God and are deserving of respect and dignity.”

Isabel Teotonio





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