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An Addendum to the Discussion of GSAs

December 16, 2014

As many of you are aware, Alberta’s bishops have written to the Catholic parishes this weekend to let people know that they are concerned for the welfare of LGBTQ students in our Catholic schools–as they are concerned for the welfare of all students who are bullied.  How our schools minister to LGBTQ students though, is something they want left up to school boards rather than government legislation.

I had a good conversation with a spokesman from the Edmonton Archdiocese today.  He suggested that our district has been working quietly for years to help our LGBTQ students while adding more recently, workshops for teachers on pastoral care of LGBTQ students.  He wanted me to know that the archdiocese wants to work with trustees and the district to provide the best possible resources to our LGBTQ students–some of these resources may include but are not limited to offering safe groups for students to gather.  I know that for me, education of the student body, teachers, administration, support staff on LGBTQ issues is very much needed in our schools and know that this educational component has been added to Edmonton Catholic School’s Inclusive Communities policy.  Going forward, I will continue to advocate for groups especially for our LGBTQ students, working with our bishops to provide the best possible support we can give as Catholic schools.  I will remind them of the 2014 study out of the University of Victoria published in the International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies that showed that “LGB students had lower odds of past year discrimination, suicidal thoughts and attempts, mostly when policies and GSAs had been in place for 3+ years;  policies had a less consistent effect than GSAs” (go to:  http://journals.uvic.ca/index.php/ijcyfs/article/view/12856 for the abstract).

I will also will discuss with them, the study published in The Lancet which states the following:

“42% of the LGBTQ group reported seeking medical help for depression and anxiety compared with 29% of heterosexual non-transgender youth. More than half of LGBTQ respondents reported self-harming now or in the past compared with 35% of heterosexual non-trans youth. And 44% of LGBTQ reported ever having thought about suicide compared with 26% of heterosexual non-trans respondents. The survey also found that schools in particular were fearful and hostile environments for LGBTQ youth and failed badly in educational, emotional, and health information and support.”

The study goes on to recommend that “Young people, however, might not seek help for mental health problems from the medical profession. Schools should be places where young people can find information and support, but they are not for LGBTQ youth. Remedying this situation requires urgent review by schools about their policies and services for this vulnerable group.” For more information go to:  http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)60089-1/fulltext?rss=yes.

In Catholic schools, our groups for LGBTQ may not be called “GSAs” but that is a matter for the bishops to decide.  I recently learned that the bishops are the ecclesiastical authority who determine whether Catholic schools are Catholic or not.   This is from Canon Law 803, #3 which states:  “No school, even if it is in fact catholic, may bear the title ‘catholic school’ except by the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority”.  So we as Catholic trustees must work with our bishops to resolve the issues that arise within our schools in such a manner that meets the needs of our students but also preserves the Catholic nature of our schools as defined by our bishops.

Without our bishops we do not have Catholic schools and so we must follow their lead as our shepherds when we are ministering to all our vulnerable students.  As a trustee who believes in publicly funded Catholic education I will work with our bishops to address the concerns of LGBTQ students as well as those 38% of students who are bullied for their appearance and those 17% who are bullied for their marks.  We need school environments where students love and accept one another as human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

If you want to express your opinion on this issue to your MLA go to http://streetkey.elections.ab.ca/ and enter your postal code to get their contact information.

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6 Comments
  1. Harold Neth permalink

    With all due respect to the spokesperson from the diocese, they must be working very quietly because this is the first I’ve heard of this effort, and I was very involved in all aspects of education when I was a teacher. If boards had been making GSAs available, the legislators would not have gotten involved to the degree they have. But the past is the past, so I look forward to seeing these programs for students and teachers.

  2. Marie Somers permalink

    I heard you speak on The 180 with Jim Brown. You couldn’t hear me applaud your message of true inclusivity and love of God.
    Your ideas are more in line with Christ’s teachings, as the bible provides endless examples of Jesus including the people deemed unlovable.
    Pope Francis gives me hope, and so do you.

  3. Rob permalink

    I’m left with the questions…. since when does canon law take precedent over the civil law? For the safety and well-being of vulnerable minorities, isn’t it time to challenge the Bishops? If they won’t let safe and caring schools be called Catholic, let them become part of the public system. Aren’t these the same Bishops that sacrificed the safety of children to protect child abusing priests; protecting the reputation of the church at kids’ expense?

    • This is where school trustees come in — we advise the bishops what the needs of the kids are and the bishops are listening. As I said in the Edmonton Journal, they just don’t want the state to dictate to them what needs to be done in their schools and they don’t want to have to call them “GSAs”. I have been reassured that the bishops are considering a variety of ways to help LGBTQ kids. These ways include workshops for teachers on pastoral care of LGBTQ students. Two have already been held and more are on their way. Thanks for your comments!

  4. Laurie M permalink

    Hey Rob – what is your source for the following comment “…the same Bishops that sacrificed the safety of children to protect child abusing priests; protecting the reputation of the church at kids’ expense?”

    If you do not have proof of what you are saying, this is called slander.

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