Toronto Catholic Schools Protect Trans Students: How Big Is This Win? November 14, 2019

Toronto Catholic Schools Protect Trans Students: How Big Is This Win?

Last week, following a long and intense meeting, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) voted in favor of inclusivity.

The debate had been raging for a while: Should Catholic schools in Toronto, one of Canada’s largest and most diverse cities, bring their Code of Conduct in line with the Human Rights Code of Canada to protect students from discrimination on the grounds of gender identity or expression?

Ultimately two-thirds of the board’s members voted in favor of updating the document to align with their legal requirement to uphold the literal human rights of children in their care.

Put another way, a third of board members thought human rights should be subject to restrictions based on the gender conformity of children.

Despite the low bar, it’s being treated as a victory, and rightly so, perhaps. The TCDSB’s initial impulse — to replace substantive changes to the Code with a bland, non-specific statement about how “all people are created in the image and likeness of God and are deserving of respect” — gave way to a specific policy guideline addressing the unique needs of gender-non-conforming students and their families.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce is certainly impressed:

I express my support for TCDSB affirming the importance of human rights and human dignity for all children. I have long believed that every child should see themselves reflected in their class, curriculum, and school community. Today, we can say with confidence that they do.

Scratch the surface, though, and it’s possible that confidence is slightly premature.

For one thing, opposition to the changes — which, I cannot emphasize enough, are mandated for compliance with Canada’s Human Rights Code — was vicious. One trustee, Michael Del Grande, suggested that language inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community would force schools to affirm bestiality and extreme sexual fetishes.

Parents were divided; some supported inclusivity, but others insisted on their right as parents to marginalize gender-non-conforming children to keep their own offspring from accepting and embracing human diversity. Several parents on all sides of the issue attended the school board meeting to speak for or against the amendment to the Code.

Arguably more troubling, though, is the document released by the Archdiocese of Toronto in which they appear to have expressed support for inclusivity. It looks like an incredible shift in tone and policy for the Catholic Church, and reports are treating it as such. But one particular clause of the bishops’ document should give us pause:

The Archdiocese will accept all prohibited grounds of discrimination… providing the policy contains language recommended by the Archdiocese which contextualizes that this policy will be interpreted through the lens of the Catholic faith as articulated by the teachings of the Church and protected in legislation.

As a general rule, whenever somebody adds a caveat to their compliance with human rights legislation, it’s probably a good idea to be wary.

In this case, it seems like the relevant Church teaching is outlined in a Vatican document released in February 2019, entitled “Male and Female He Created Them.” Focused specifically on issues of gender identity and sexual orientation within Catholic educational environments, the document paints a very clear picture of exactly how “the lens of the Catholic faith” understands sex and gender diversity, calling the very notion “an anthropology opposed to faith and right reason.” The document accuses LGBTQ causes of promoting selfishness, destabilizing the family, and conning children out of a stable, normal life by teaching them it’s okay to be gay. The very suggestion is described as “distorted” and accused of wreaking “spiritual and material devastation” upon its proponents.

If that’s the inclusivity we can expect of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, thanks but no thanks.

The board members who voted in favor of adding inclusive language seem sincere and supportive of the students (who seem overwhelmingly in favor of adding human rights language to the Code). Not all faithful Catholics would agree with the Church’s documents on the matter. Consider Maria Rizzo, the board’s chair, who told the Toronto Star:

God heard my prayers. We finally, finally, after months and months of turmoil and creating this division, we finally came together as a board and did the right thing by our students and our families.

But whether the Archdiocese is operating in good faith is an entirely separate question. As the Catholic Church has shown many times throughout its long and colorful history, they know how to sidestep controversy with carefully-chosen words while continuing to enact its own interpretations of Scripture and Church Tradition as justification for bigotry.

As the Bible says, we’ll know them by their fruits.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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