TORONTO — A dispute over the use of the term “gay-straight alliance” in Ontario schools has prompted the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto on Monday to accuse Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s administration of making “religious freedom . . . a second-class right.”
The church-versus-state showdown was sparked by an amendment from Education Minister Laurel Broten to the anti-bullying bill, closing a loophole that gave schools veto power over club names.
Under the proposed change, all schools — including those in the Catholic system — won’t be able to stop students from calling anti-homophobia clubs “gay-straight alliances.”
Broten said that Ontario’s LGBTQ students received highlighted mention in the legislation, as statistically LGBTQ youth are at increased exposure and risk to being bullied and that schools, parents, and government needs to reinforce the message that this behavior will not be tolerated.
But in an interview with the Toronto Star, Marino Gazzola, chairperson of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, said Tuesday that using the word “gay” in the name of supportive clubs is going too far.
“In our view the word itself is a distraction,” he said. “We want the focus to be on more than just one thing, more than just the sexuality of the student. We want the focus to be on the entire student.”
According to some conservative lawmakers, including Tory MPP Lisa MacLeod, it’s a thinly veiled effort to undermine the $7 billion a year that Catholic schools get from Ontario taxpayers — almost one-third the annual education budget, reported the Star.
“The government has decided in this case that they want to be aggressive, they want to provoke the Catholic education system for whatever reason,” MacLeod said. “Catholic school board trustees . . . are worried this is going to cause the de-funding of their system.”
Broten denied that her bill was an effort to de-fund Catholic schools, instead pointing out that all provincial schools must follow the law as “we root out discrimination of all kinds, whether it’s racism, whether it’s misogyny, whether it’s homophobia.”
“Every single one of our schools, whether Catholic or public, must be safe and accepting places for all of our students,” she said, and added that is not “radical” for a gay club to have the word “gay” in the name.
She noted that the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association support her position.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the battle shows it’s time to scrap Catholic school funding in favor of a single, secular public school system that could save taxpayers as much as $1.5 billion a year.
Catholic school boards said they’ll look for ways to fight back should the amendment on gay clubs be passed.