Bishop's 'Homophobic' Letter Spurs Apology From Edmonton Catholic School Trustee

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An Edmonton Catholic School District (ECSD) trustee has apologized to parents after the school district distributed a controversial letter from a Calgary bishop denouncing Alberta's new guidelines for LGBTQ students.

Last week, Calgary Bishop Fred Henry wrote a letter condemning the province's new guidelines for supporting LGBTQ students as "totalitarian" and "anti-Catholic."

That letter was included in a note sent out to all parents in the Edmonton district Friday.

"I wish to apologize to all those who were offended by the inclusion of Bishop Henry’s letter in a communique sent to all ECSD parents on Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. I need the public to know that I tried to discourage my fellow trustees from including his letter in a communication we were planning on sending out to our parents on Friday. As you can see, I was unsuccessful," trustee Patricia Grell wrote on her blog on Saturday.

I tried to discourage my fellow trustees from including his letter."

In the letter, Henry writes "In (God’s) plan, men and women should respect and accept their sexual identity," adding that gay-straight alliances are "highly politicized ideological clubs which seek to cure society of 'homophobia.'"

"Many of my constituents have expressed their dismay/anger/horror/frustration that [the Edmonton Catholic School District] sent his letter which states so many hurtful and untrue things about the LGBTQ community," Grell says in her blog. "This is not at all what [gay-straight alliances] are — they are simply safe spaces for LGBTQ students and their allies to meet and receive support."

Parents upset over 'homophobic' letter

Many parents are expressing their anger that trustees chose to publish the letter.

Michelle Comeau, the mother of two students at Edmonton Catholic schools told CBC News that the letter was angry and homophobic, adding she was embarrassed that it was sent out.

Others took to Twitter to express their disapproval.

Board chairwoman Marilyn Bergstra tweeted that she's looking into the situation, and says the letter never should have been sent out.

LGBTQ student guidelines

Alberta education minister David Eggen introduced the new guidelines for boards to follow when drafting policies regarding LGBTQ students on Wednesday. The guidelines are intended to help protect LGBTQ students' rights at the 61 school boards across the province.

In response to backlash from trustees against the policies, Eggen has said that the Edmonton Catholic School Board trustees need to "sort themselves out and make sure they are doing the job that they are elected and paid to do," adding that the law demands equality for all students, including those of different gender identities.

The issue of implementing guidelines was first raised last year, when a transgender girl asked to use the girl's washroom at an Edmonton Catholic school. The issue led to angry, emotional board meetings, where one trustee broke down in tears and another said transgender students have a "mental disorder."

"Trustees need to "sort themselves out and make sure they are doing the job that they are elected and paid to do."

The guidelines address a range of issues, including specifying that transgender students be allowed to use the washroom of their choice, based on their gender identity. Students should also be addressed by the name and pronoun that make them comfortable, and play on the sports team they feel aligns with their gender identity.

The girl's mother says the new guidelines are "fantastic," but that "time will tell" whether or not school boards interpret the rules fairly, according to Edmonton radio station 630 CHED.

With files from The Canadian Press

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