Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The EFC's law and pub

Ottawa hosted its Gay Pride Parade on the weekend. The mayor and other local politicians attended along with official representatives from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. On Wednesday, the Toronto Catholic District School Board will vote on implementation of an Equity in Education policy, mandatory for all schools according to Ontario’s Premier and its Minister of Education.

 It’s difficult to say how many times I have heard or read the media refer to a Gay Pride Parade as a ‘celebration of diversity.’ I’m also not sure how often the Equity in Education policies of various provincial Ministries of Education have been referred to as a ‘recognition of diversity.’

Gay Pride Parades are no more a celebration of diversity than the equity policies are a recognition of diversity. Let’s be straight about this, Gay Pride Parades are a celebration of homosexuality and equity policies, as prepared to date, are a recognition (some claim promotion) of homosexuality in the school system.

Harsh words? Anti-gay? Homophobic? I don’t think so.

In Ontario, a celebration of diversity would include celebration of: “race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status and disability.” These are the identified categories of the Ontario Human Rights Code. Each piece of human rights legislation has a similar list in its own words.

The parade might include gays and lesbians of different races, ancestries, etc. but such inclusion is secondary to the celebration of being gay. And, given that technically and legally – at least according to the Supreme Court of Canada in Dagenais v. CBC – there is no hierarchy of rights, the primary focus on being gay (some would say ‘primal’ because of the otherwise illegal nudity and portrayal of sexual acts that are often featured in the gay pride ‘celebration’ to which families are invited) means that by definition the parade is not a celebration of diversity. It’s a celebration of being gay.

If you want to celebrate being gay, then celebrate being gay. But don’t claim it’s a celebration of diversity.

Equity in Education policies should not be implemented when drafted to establish recognition and support for gay and lesbian students in a manner that supersedes or fails to provide similar recognition of students’ rights under the other prohibited grounds of discrimination. And, such policies promoted as mandatory in faith-based privately or publicly funded schools need to take into consideration the beliefs of the school community, just as those policies’ impact on individual students in public schools needs to be accommodated.

Equity policies need to be robust and well-rounded enough to deal sensitively with the status of each student, not just a select group. And, they need to take into account the raison d’être of the school in which implementation is intended.

To be clear, as the Supreme Court of Canada determined in Ross v. New Brunswick, the classroom is to be a welcoming place for all students. That explicitly should not be interpreted to favour one group over another. Public schools are required to recognize diversity.

Should one choose to send one’s children to a school that operates on principles other than those in the public system, one’s expectation ought reasonably to be that the school be a welcoming place for all students without the school being required to compromise, abandon or invalidate the principles upon which the alternative school (whether privately or publicly funded) is established. Catholic schools should be distinctively Catholic, just as arts schools should be distinctively artsy and athletic schools distinctively sporty. These alternative schools establish entrance standards that will, of reality, limit the students eligible to attend while accommodating an identifiable group. That’s why they are an alternative to the public system.

If we really want to celebrate and recognize diversity in a free and democratic society, then let’s openly have the conversations about diversity without threat of being labelled anti-gay or homophobic when what we really are is pro appropriate celebration and recognition. It’s not about name calling. It’s not about political correctness. It’s about equality. It’s about equity. And, it’s about diversity.