Catholic Schools and Gay-Straight Alliances

Another similar legal case that illustrates the importance of language for social justice also took place in Toronto. In 2012, Trustee Garry Tanuan motioned to ban Gay-Straight Alliances in Catholic schools. This drew heavy media attention to the school board meeting, with “parents and students making passionate arguments for and against the clubs – even though Ontario law says they must be permitted,” (Alphonso, 2013).

The law being referred to here stated that students should not be discouraged to set up a Gay- Straight Alliance club in Ontario Schools. The act was put in place as an anti-bullying legislation that protected against any sort of violence based on homophobia, (Alphonso, 2013).

“Mr. Tanuan’s motion called for all anti-bullying clubs to adhere to the “Respecting Difference” report issued by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association last January. This report offered guidelines for Catholic schools that included calling groups like GSAs “Respecting Differences” clubs and avoiding discussions of sexual attraction, political activism and gender identity,” (Alphonso, 2013).  

John Del Grande says that trustees will not have a problem with the name themselves as long as they act in a Catholic way. However, he believes that problems arise when these student led groups become political. “The fear is that these groups could turn into larger advocacy or political organizations and “force Catholics to think differently… Then we have a constitutional problem.” (Howlett, 2012). According to The Catholic archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins, this is a form of making religious freedom a “second-class right” (Howlett, 2012).

Andre P Grace and Kristopher Wells wrote an article called “The Marc Hall Prom Predicament: Queer Individual Rights v. Institutional Church Rights in Canadian Public Education”. Their article examines the court case, set forth by Marc Hall against his school principal’s refusal to let him take his boyfriend to his Catholic high school prom, as a critique on Catholicized education. This begs the question of institutional rights versus individual rights.

In this article, they state that the institutional Catholic school prioritizes their rights as an educational institution to administer Catholic education before putting their students’ individual rights to study in a safe and welcoming environment. They critiqued this approach as the “privatization of queerness”, which inevitably falls under exclusionary acts legislated on Section15 (1) of the Canadian Charter Rights of Freedoms (Grace and Wells, 2005). Grace and Wells (2005) also state that Catholic school is in itself a state of power whereby their institutional rights to denominational education, they are able to produce “its own ‘regime of pedagogy’” that undermines the agenda of “inclusive education” (p. 260).

Peterson’s position as an educator in a highly regarded institution of UoT places his rejection of the gender identity and gender expression amendment  of Bill C-16 and ORHC on the same playing field of institutional rights preceding individual rights. Peterson strategically uses the institution to assert power as a way to validate undermining the implications of this amendment on the safety and wellness of the LGBTQ+ community.

The next section will tackle student activism, and implications for social justice.


Image credit:


Alphonso, C. (2013, May 23). Toronto Catholic trustees reject motion to ban gay-straight alliance clubs. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Howlett, K. (2012, June 5). Catholic teachers support Ontario’s gay-straight alliance initiative. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Grace, Andre P. and Kristopher Wells. “The Marc Hall Prom Predicament: Queer Individual Rights v. Institutional Church Rights in Canadian Public Education.” Journal of Education 28.3 (2005) 237-270.


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