This blog post is specifically related to events at Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada in February of 2013. Since that time, the Pope and the Catholic Church have slightly changed their policies on the treatment of LGBT people. I also now work at a Catholic University which is not only tolerant of LGBT, but has a group on campus promoting and celebrating LGBT Pride. Social Justice themes pervade the campus and provide the kind of haven that some LGBT were looking for in a Christian setting. However, this essay, written in the heat of the controversy in Whitehorse still stands as a culmination of what I learned about asking for what you need in your high school.
Vanier Catholic Secondary School put on their school website in 2013 incendiary comments about LGBT. “The 25-page policy, freely available on the Vanier website, supports the Catholic Church’s official position on homosexuality numerous times, calling it “intrinsically disordered and contrary to the natural law.” Even unexpressed same-sex urges are considered a disorder and are described as a “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”’ (Yukon News, Feb 27, 2013)
Students, waking up to their school’s blatant accusations about LGBT students, had every right to be afraid.
Canada had JUST passed a law requiring all schools to allow gay-straight alliances, and Vanier’s response was to buck the law on the grounds of Catholic teaching and write it on their school website to justify not complying with the law. This put students at risk. By calling LGBT students “intrinsic moral evil”–their own students at Vanier—they were promoting hatred towards their students from other students. I felt as a gay Christian (who happened to live next door to the school) that I had a moral obligation to suggest ways that students could still ask, strongly, for their GSA. I used the techniques lived out in Martin Luther King’s life and the non-violent resistance techniques he taught others. Vanier was breaking the law on religious grounds; and they were also condemning their own students on their website. Herein lies the context for my blogpost. This does not represent my views about Catholicism today as lived out at University of Dayton, but was certainly relevant for the place and time and Pope we had at that time. Pope Francis would not make his appearance until March (a few weeks later) and would not promote more tolerance towards LGBT people until many months later. Understand that the Pope and church doctrine still do not accept same-sex marriage, but ask that LGBT people be treated with dignity.
Below is the original post.
The current mess at Vanier Catholic Secondary School is all of their own making. If students just stay quiet, I’m sure this will all pass and things will go back to normal. There will be a ruling that Vanier designates their document on the school’s website as a religious document. Yukon School policy will be laid beside it to tell gay students that they are great and that Yukon schools are not discriminating. That will “satisfy” the distance Yukon Education wants to have between Catholic dogma and school policy. Unfortunately, the heart of Yukon Education will remain hollow if the Catholic school does not create a gay-straight alliance as they are now required by law to do.
Why is this important?
If the Separation of Documents is the final goal, it leaves gay students (and straight students) vulnerable and in danger.
Anti-gay doctrine remains a part of Catholic teaching. As a Christian myself, I know this doctrine is not representative of Christianity as it is practiced in many major denominations. Lutherans and Presbyterians and Anglicans, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ, United Church of Canada all have come to a better translation of the Bible that preserves God’s moral teachings but accepts all people regardless of their sexuality. These denominations are just as faithful to God, have just as much moral integrity, and care just as much about their kids as conservative Catholics do. And I would argue, in this case, that they do that MORE than their conservative Catholic counterparts.
Loving your kid means protecting them from danger. Loving your kid means teaching them how to treat other people. Loving them means passing on your cultural and spiritual beliefs because they are important and lead to a better society.
This is why having a Gay-Straight Alliance inside a Catholic high school is so important. In a place where students cannot escape a religious teaching that demeans them there must be a haven, a safe place. Students are required by law to go to some school. We can’t stop home-schooling parents who have an anti-gay dogma attached to every lesson, but we can help students that are in public and private schools. Vanier is not entirely private since it receives public funding. Therefore the onus is on the government to protect the students.
They did that. With the recent government ruling requiring all schools to have a GSA if students request it, the federal government handed the students a huge shield of protection. Students have to ask for it. Vanier students did and they were not granted that shield. That’s a legal matter. However, if students only try once and are refused, they might not get the government stepping in. Unless they get lawyers involved nothing may happen. Students, you’re going to have to get Vanier to step in.
But wait, let me explain a bit more why this safe haven is important. Religion is not bad. Catholic teaching is not bad. God is not bad. We have some pretty good moral teachings inside the Catholic church and Vanier tries to look at the world through a Christian lens. It doesn’t always see it correctly. But it tries. I think a public school devoid of any spirituality, or the lack of recognition of the role spirituality and faith play in everyone’s daily life, does a disservice to kids too. I think a religious life is a thoughtful one. And one that teaches you how to live in a community.
So I don’t think gay kids should run from a Catholic school. I do think they have no idea how much power to change their school they have. Students on the inside are far more powerful than those of us on the outside. The school will not change without pressure from within as well as from without.
Gay kids need a safe space away from bad doctrine. If a gay kid is fed that he is “morally evil” as that document written by the bishop on the website said, they will do one of two things: internalize the hatred of themselves or never have a spiritual life or be interested in faith again.
Churches listen up. You’re in a pickle. You are going to run out of new members soon and will die off. Unless you embrace gays. They are your key to salvation. Ironic, isn’t it? For your faith to continue you must accept gays as they are. They will help you spread ye faith. If not, the way you treat them will pull folks to their side and everyone will leave you. They will brand you Westboro and do everything they can against you.
Students, here’s your power: read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”– there’s a link on my website here. I know it’s long but it details a form of nonviolent resistance that you can do inside the walls of your school.
My suggestions for you to get the changes you need to survive–and this just a GSA–are as follows:
1. Form your GSA. Do it at recess or in the halls or at lunch or in the locker room. Do it and don’t listen when adults try to stop you. Form your club.
2. Meet your club inside the school after school hours.
3. They will try to end it. What power do they have when you have the government of Canada behind you? Meet anyway. Be clever. Meet in multiple places. Resist them and be strong in your GSA.
4. Make positive gay posters and put them up. Let all students know that your GSA remains strong. And that gay students are loved and supported by God.
5. Be strong. These posters will be taken down. You will be threatened by the administration. They will try to find the ring leaders. Don’t tell them who’s in your GSA. Maybe everyone. They will suspend some of you. Go to your blogs and write about WHY you were suspended. You were suspended for asking for a GSA. This action is illegal under Canada Law. The school is aiming for trouble.
6. After some of you are suspended, the rest get to do a sit-in. Sit in the main lobby or the admin office. Just sit on the floor in the chairs and ask politely for a GSA. Make your presence known. You have to organise this sit in. You need thirty or forty students and they have to skip class to do it. They have to stay on the office for hours. It’s okay. Make signs, positive gay ones, and ones that ask for your GSA guaranteed under law. This will push them.
7. They will probably suspend a lot of you. Or they will call the cops. But I doubt the cops part. You are not breaking the law and they are. All of you should tweet about it while you are doing it. Create a Facebook page during the sit in. Let EVERYONE IN WHITEHORSE know you are doing it.
8. Vanier does not want continued bad publicity. But your pressure will force them into a decision. Either they will let you form a GSA or every parent in town will put more pressure on them. You will win. You will get your GSA.
9. Beware the half-measure. They might a) promise to consider it if you leave. They just want you gone. Sit still until the school allows the GSA. B) they’ll offer you a false version of GSA– One Heart, or some such crap which is still their dogma covered in a candy coating. Say no. You will call it a GSA and it will have positive messages about being gay. The only way you give in is when they let you have the safe haven. If One Heart is not a safe place for gays, it is not the GSA required by law and not a place where gays can feel proud of who they are. Doesn’t matter what it is called, it must promote pride. You get to write the rules.
10. There is power and safety in numbers. The more who join your cause inside the school the more good you can do. This is why YOUR GSA will actually be an Alliance of students. Because you will have fought together.
Gay students must have a safe place inside a Christian school to be gay. Or else it can kill them. Kill their faith. Kill their concepts of self and God. Eventually kill them. Straight students who get taught that it’s okay to deny students their Canadian rights, or push around a minority, or discriminate based on what they were told God thinks will do those things in society. They will lead workplaces and cities and our country. Schools can’t teach intolerance inside a democracy.
Students you have the right to safety. And you have the right to ask for your GSA and to get it. Now go and get what you need.
Don’t leave the school–transform it.
(postcard image by Joyce Majiski)