Dalton McGuinty tried to do the right thing. He tried to make Ontario schools safer for kids who felt threatened. He tried to make Ontario schools more inclusive for kids who felt excluded. He tried to build a bridge to signify that Ontario had indeed moved past the dark days of intolerance and bigotry. He almost succeeded. But his attempts to create gay-straight alliances in all publicly-funded schools hit a divine road bump.
The Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association has definitively rejected Premier McGuinty's requirement. In 12 pages, without once mentioning the forbidden word (gay, shhh!), they introduce their own, Catholic version: Respecting Differences groups.
However, when reading the report it becomes abundantly clear that when the Catholic trustees talk about respecting differences they aren't referring to straight and gay (crap, I said it again). No. The differences they refer to are between right and wrong.
After all, the trustees write, "Being 'tolerant' of another person does not mean accepting that what he or she says is correct or immune from moral evaluation and criticism." This means that schools will respect differences and prove their tolerance by reminding students afflicted with the plague of "same sex attraction or issues of gender identity" that they are incorrect and immoral.
The life of a child is too meaningful and fragile to subject it to such hypocrisy. They are too impressionable, too vulnerable for these games. This is not a matter of faith; it is one of morality. And the former does not hold a monopoly over the latter.
At a time when the entire focus of the province's anti-bullying campaign is to be open about our challenges, and talk about them, the Catholic School Boards want to shove them back in the closet.
Gay-Straight Alliances are meant to be safe places where students can come together, talk about issues, find mutual strength and support, and openly embrace one another as equals. Respecting Differences groups, on the other hand, are not.
Issues of gender identity, like those of sexual attraction, can be complex, delicate, and highly personal. Pupils wrestling with such questions may well be in vulnerable psychological or spiritual conditions and may be exposed to unhelpful group pressure. For this reason such matters are best dealt with privately and confidentially with proper counselling and chaplaincy staff.
I don't want to begin speculating on what such counseling sessions will include.
This past fall Canada's largest Jewish high school started its own gay-straight alliance with full support of the administration. Notwithstanding the Old Testament, taught in its very halls, it went ahead. And it didn't make the school any less Jewish. It just made it more human.
Ontario's Catholic School Boards, on the other hand, are still trapped in an era where white smoke is the fastest way to send a message; they refuse to look at the world around them. "Citizens for the most part do not and will not all agree (with few exceptions) about what sexual acts are moral and immoral." That's a lie. Citizens for the most part do agree. You, the Catholic School Board, are the minority.
Thankfully for their sake, while their worldview stays black and white, they've carved out a section of this province where they get to play God. In this dream world they have deluded themselves into believing that they have found the right balance between sinner and saint. After all, they remind us, "Individuals who are dealing with same sex attraction or issues of gender identity are treated with sensitivity, respect, and compassion." Poor souls.
However, in embracing their hierarchy of differences, the Catholic trustees' most delusional assertion is that their schools reject bullying when, in fact, the reality is that they embrace it.
If the life of a child entrusted to them mattered as much as their faith did, they would see this. But it doesn't, so they don't.
Follow Josh D. Scheinert on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joshscheinert