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Dr. Tonya D. Callaghan Killam & SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow The University of Calgary Faculty of Education
7-Page Summary of 410-Page Dissertation
CASWE/QSEC Multi-Paper Session 2.12 Sunday, May 27, 2012 10:00 am – 11:15 am, Room BA 307 Queer Studies in Education and Culture (QSEC), a Special Interest Group of The Canadian Association for the Study of Women and Education (CASWE) CASWE is a constituent association of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education
Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2012 Wilfrid Laurier University Waterloo, Ontario
Abstract: Clashes between Catholic canonical law and Canadian common law regarding sexual minorities continue to be played out in Canadian Catholic schools. Although Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensures same-sex equality in Canada, some teachers in Alberta Catholic schools are fired for contravening Catholic doctrine about non-heterosexuality, while Ontario students’ requests to establish Gay/Straight Alliances are denied. This paper emphasizes the findings and implications of a very recent doctoral study that examines the causes and effects of the long-standing disconnect between Canadian Catholic schools and the Charter by comparing the treatment of and attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (lgbtq) teachers and students in publicly-funded Catholic school systems in the provinces of Alberta and Ontario. Holy Homophobia When it comes to managing sexual minorities, publicly-funded Catholic schools in Alberta and Ontario take their direction from Catholic canonical law rather than Canadian common law. The central contradiction in Catholic doctrine related to the behaviour of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (lgbtq) individuals, who are referred to in Catholic parlance as “persons with same-sex attraction” (Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops [OCCB], 2003, p. 3), can be distilled down to the colloquial Christian expression: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” This irreconcilable concept underlies curricular and policy decisions regarding the topic of sexual diversity and the existence of sexual minorities in Canadian Catholic schools. For example, as my doctoral study reveals, contradictory Catholic doctrine on the topic of non-heterosexuality informs curricular decisions, such as Waterloo Catholic District School Board’s removal of a teacher resource book called Open Minds to Equality
because it discusses homophobia. Contradictory Catholic doctrine also guides policy decisions on matters such as whether or not grade 12 student Leanne Iskander is granted permission to establish a bona fide Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) in her southern Ontario Catholic high school. Catholic education leaders consult Catholic canonical law when attempting to develop educational policy involving lgbtq people, including several participants in my study, each of whom I refer to using pseudonyms. Participant Naarai was fired in 2009 from her position as a teacher assistant in southern Alberta after her principal surmised she was attempting to get pregnant so she could raise a child with her female partner. Participant Job was fired from his position as a substitute teacher in Northern Alberta in 2008 after revealing that he was transitioning from the female to the male gender. Participant Anna was fired from her position as an art teacher in southern Alberta in 2004 for taking on the role of “straight ally” to the lgbtq students in her Catholic school and providing a “positive space” for them to meet in her classroom at lunchtime. Of the 12 student participants, 3 who were out about their sexuality to themselves and some of their friends had the disastrous experience of their Catholic school administrators outing them to their parents. Participant Jacob now identifies as a “queer trans-guy,” but back when he was in Grade 7 at his Catholic junior high school in southern Alberta, he identified as a lesbian. Jacob came out as a lesbian at the age of 12 to a trusted religion teacher who told the principal of the school who then called in Jacob’s parents for a meeting so Jacob could come out to them at the school. Jacob’s parents reacted by sending him to reparative therapy. Participant Abigail had such a positive experience coming out as a lesbian in Grade 11 to her best friends in her Catholic high school in northern Ontario that she decided to tell a trusted teacher with whom she had bonded over poetry. That teacher informed the principal of the school who then called in Abigail’s mother to apprise her of Abigail’s disclosure of her lesbianism. Reflecting on this experience, Abigail says she “definitely was not ready” to tell her mom, and that it was a “terrible time” for both her and her mother. While being disciplined for wearing parts of the official boys’ uniform with her assigned girl’s uniform, a frustrated participant under the pseudonym Hannah told her vice principal and guidance counsellor that she was gay. These administrators of her southern Ontario Catholic high school decided it was best to call in Hannah’s mother so that she could be informed of this. Hannah’s mother responded by pulling Hannah out of the school to keep her away from what she regarded to be “gay influences,” and by eventually expelling Hannah from the family home. Sexual and gender diversity in Canadian Catholic schools pose challenging conundrums. As my study shows, Catholic education leaders’ answer to these vexing questions is normally a resounding “no” (Alberta Catholic Bishops, 2001; Durocher, 2010; OCCB, 2003; see also Appendix D). Using Catholic doctrine to fire lgbtq teachers and
discriminate against queer students in Catholic schools violates the equality rights provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This kind of homophobic discrimination is incongruous in a country such as Canada that is considered one of the most socially progressive countries in the world, due, in large part, to its Charter and the leadership it has shown in terms of the protection of basic human rights (Department of Justice Canada, 1982). My doctoral study is a timely exploration of the causes and effects of this long-standing disconnect between Canadian Catholic schools and the Charter visà-vis sexual minority groups. My doctoral study uncovers the stories of lgbtq students and teachers in some Alberta and Ontario Catholic schools, through interviews with 20 participants and also through media accounts, and it examines two little-known but extremely influential Alberta and Ontario Catholic curriculum and policy documents regarding sexual minorities. My goal in undertaking this study is to engage in a form of “radical democratic politics” (Reinelt, 1998, p. 286) that examines the state of sexual diversity in Canadian Catholic schools from a specific vantage point and invites dialogue and debate – an important step in making such schools more accepting of sex and gender differences.
Findings All of the participants experienced some form of homophobia in their Catholic schools and none described a Catholic school environment that was accepting and welcoming of sexual diversity. Overall, the teacher participants in my doctoral study experienced greater degrees of doctrinal disciplining regarding non-heterosexuality than the student participants. Resistance on the part of teacher participants is less pronounced than that of the students. The similarity of experiences among participants in terms of the heteronormative repression to which they were subjected in the distant provinces of Alberta and Ontario suggests that Catholic doctrine from the Vatican is directing school policy and practice regarding the management of sexual minority groups in Alberta and Ontario Catholic schools. Contradictory Catholic doctrine, which casts lgbtq people solely as “persons with same-sex attraction” who suffer from “an arrested psycho-sexual development” (cited in CCSSA, 2007, section 3) and are therefore in need of “pastoral care,” showcases Alberta and Ontario Catholic schools as the opposite of a “welcoming and safe environment” (OCCB, 2004a, p. 23) for sexual minority groups and conversely positions Alberta and Ontario Catholic schools as potential hotbeds for homophobia. The Canadian news media have been instrumental in shedding light on various clashes between Catholic canonical law and Canadian common law in relation to nonheterosexuals in Canadian Catholic schools. The media reports in this study range from important court cases to incidents of homophobic school policies. The court cases show a
progression of same-sex legal rights in Canada following the enactment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically the use of Section 15 – the equality rights provision – to challenge discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Canadian schools. The media accounts also show a concerted Catholic resistance to the advancement of same-sex legal rights, discernible in the appearance of new pastoral guidelines on the topic of “persons with same sex attractions” in the early 21st century following the highly publicized advancements of same-sex legal rights in Canada throughout the late 20th century. The homophobic incidents in Canadian Catholic schools, described in both the “Participants” and the “Media Accounts” chapters of the study, show that Catholic doctrine on the topic of non-heterosexuality is the guiding principle behind curricular and policy decisions taken in Canadian Catholic schools related to sexual minority groups and sexual diversity. The “Catholic Documents” chapter examines two important primary texts from the provinces of Alberta and Ontario written by Catholic bishops and Catholic education leaders to make clear to Catholic educators the official Catholic doctrine on non-heterosexuality. Both the Ontario and the Alberta texts circulate and endorse the most damning elements of Catholic doctrine that describe “homosexual acts” as “acts of grave depravity,” which are “intrinsically disordered,” and which count among the list of “sins gravely contrary to chastity” (cited in OCCB, 2004a, p. 53). Both the Ontario and Alberta texts stress Catholic doctrine that calls non-heterosexuals to a lifetime of celibacy. Both texts subtly recommend the corrective 12-Step program called Courage as a reputable resource to assist non-heterosexual Catholics in attaining the goal of lifelong celibacy. The chief finding of the “Catholic Documents” chapter is that the Catholic concept of “pastoral care” for non-heterosexuals, derived as it is from condemning Catholic doctrine, is not any kind of “care” at all. The pastoral guidelines about how to manage non-heterosexuals in Alberta and Ontario Catholic schools are not about developing empathy toward vulnerable sexual minority groups, but are instead guidelines on how to perpetuate the Catholic tradition of homophobia in Catholic schools. The chief finding of the “Theorizing the Data” chapter is that by analyzing the data collected for this study through the lens of critical theories, it is clear that the Vatican is able to assert a dominant and hegemonic power within Catholic schools. In terms of disciplining the sexual conduct of members of sexual minority groups, the Vatican’s power prevails over other governments such as provincial ministries of education and, by extension, the Canadian government in the publicly funded institution of the Alberta and Ontario Catholic school. The Vatican’s power is “panoptic” (Foucault, 1975/1995, p. 201) and operates by means of discipline, surveillance and self-regulation. Although the Vatican’s power is clearly a dominant force, it is not entirely successful in achieving total domination over sexual minority groups. This is evident in the instances of resistance that the study also documents.
Implications for Practice An important finding of my study is that students are more free to resist the doctrinal disciplining of their Catholic schools than teachers. Students are therefore more likely than teachers to lead the revolution against homophobic oppression in Canadian Catholic schools. Anti-homophobia education efforts should accordingly concentrate on reaching student leaders. For example, the story of Leanne Iskander’s fight for a bona fide Gay/Straight Alliance at St. Joseph Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario could be transformed into a teaching tool for future lgbtq students in Canadian Catholic schools who would like to follow her lead. With its new focus on assisting with anti-homophobia education in Canadian schools, Egale Canada could direct this project, and local pride centres throughout the country could post a link to Egale Canada’s profile on the steps Leanne Iskander took to resist the holy homophobia of her Catholic high school. That is, if Iskander is ultimately successful in establishing a bona fide GSA in her school – rather than the weaker version known as By Your SIDE Spaces (an acronym for safety, inclusivity, diversity and equity), which some Catholic education leaders reluctantly agreed to after much pressure and debate from Catholic students, Canadian human rights and civil liberties groups, the media, and members of the general public (Brown, 2011). Some Catholic education leaders accept general equity clubs in Catholic schools on the condition that they do not have the word “gay” anywhere in their title, that they are not student-led, and that they focus solely on homophobic bullying among students, rather than the anti-homophobia activism and lgbtq pride that typify a bona fide GSA. Since the completion of my study in the summer of 2011, Iskander made the news again in September 2011, this time because the principal of her school threatened her with unspecified disciplinary action if she continues to agitate for a GSA at her Catholic school. Iskander is now pursuing legal action. Media coverage of Iskander’s fight for a GSA in her Catholic school has the potential to ignite a spark that may encourage Canada-wide discussion and activism in Canada’s lgbtq communities. Catholic teachers, staff, and parents who do not agree with Catholic school policies regarding sexual minorities are increasingly stepping forward to express their opposition to homophobic discrimination in Canadian Catholic schools. The outlook has been grim for many years, but these small pockets of discussion and youth-based activism provide hope that publicly-funded Canadian Catholic schools, should they continue to exist, will become actual places of learning rather than sites of homophobic oppression.
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