Toronto Catholic School Board Won't Include Gender Identity, Expression Protection

Updated on November 9, 2019
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more daily than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, & LGBT advocacy.

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Why Support Bigotry?

Why does an organization that is established to uphold religious values seem to support discrimination?

I realize this is a very broad question that could take a few hours and probably several coffees to answer, but I have never quite understood why a Catholic school board still will not support those individuals who might identify along the LGBTQ+ spectrum, or individuals from families who might be headed by same-sex couples. I am not Catholic, though I married a Catholic, which means my in-laws are Catholic. As a result, I've managed to garner some understanding about the values that a Catholic school board might support.

I've always heard a lot of talk from those who follow the Christian faith about the importance of being "Christian" and upholding "Christian values." Should that not also include allowing people to love whom they choose and be who they are, provided it upholds the letter of the law? I realize that at one point in Canadian history, identifying as a part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum basically meant that you ran afoul of the law just based on your existence, but that is not the Canadian law that exists now.

What Does the School Board Vote Mean?

A subcommittee of the Toronto Catholic School Board has voted against including protections from discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression, family status and marital status in its code of conduct. That effectively means that someone like me, who has often been mistaken as a male due to my short hair, small chest, and personal choice to dress in clothing I find comfortable (read as pants, polo shirts, button-downs with or without ties, and t-shirts), will have no protection from discrimination if the board as a whole decides to vote this into effect.

That might mean that those individuals who choose to live in a domestic partnership—whether they identify as heterosexual or not—rather than get married will have no protection from the board if there is an issue of discrimination.

That definitely means any student in the board—or teacher, for that matter—who might realize they identify as gender non-conforming, transgender, or even non-binary, among other gender identities have no protections from discrimination simply based on who they are.

I understand that there are ongoing arguments about what the Bible does or does not say about homosexuality. These are probably arguments that will never be fully resolved, as the interpretation of religious texts and literature as a whole is a complex business at times. However, I have a hard time reconciling the notion of the Christian faith (the one I grew up in) which in my mind is supposed to embrace kindness and has as one of its Ten Commandments "Love thy neighbor" with the idea of not offering the same sorts of protection from discrimination for everyone in general.

However, so long as the person in question is doing his or her job to the best of their ability and is treating people how they themselves would like to be treated, what does it matter? I would hate to think that I would not be free from discrimination simply because I dress how I choose to dress—that simply because of my gender expression of wearing jeans and t-shirts a good lot of the time (or the occasional tie) I would not be protected from discrimination. I teach a great many students who do not present as "typically" female or "typically" male—does that mean that people would be free to discriminate against them as they see fit? If a student comes from a family where the parents are same-sex partners, should we not celebrate that the student comes from a loving and supportive family rather than denigrate the student because they come from a family whose parents are in a same-sex partnership?

Never mind the questions about how issues like gender identity, gender expression, family status and marital status fit under the Catholic umbrella. Let's be honest, here: divorce hits people of all faiths and denominations, whether we want to admit it, or even like it, or not. Families in the 21st century look in some respects very different than the way they looked five, ten or even 50 years ago. We all know the mental health hazards associated with living a closeted lifestyle. Finally, if a woman or man chooses to express their gender identity in a way that doesn't align with what the "powers that be" might feel is gender normative, provided they're upholding the letter of the law, who cares?

There are enough issues that exist to stir up hate in the world. Why must a Catholic school board not uphold what has been firmly entrenched in the Ontario Human Rights Code for some time? Would electing to discriminate against someone based on who he or she is not be against "Christian values?" Let's be kind. Please.


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