Getting your priorities… straight

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. The pun was just too appropriate:

The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) may soon try to pass amendments to its equity policy that allow religious doctrine to trump the Ontario Human Rights Code. Among the eight amendments, only two passed at the last board meeting, on May 16. The meeting came to an end before trustees had time to vote on six other proposed amendments that appear to directly target queer students.

One proposed amendment states that the Catholic board’s denominational rights “take precedence over human rights protections.” Another takes aim at gay-straight alliances (GSAs): “The board will approve only clubs which [sic] have goals that are not inconsistent with Catholic faith and the Catholic Church’s moral and doctrinal teachings. Equity and Inclusive Education policy amendments ”

We all have things in our lives that require careful balancing and triage. For example, I work a 9-5 job, and play in a band. I also try to have some kind of social life outside the band, and then of course there’s this blog. This is a lot of stuff to juggle, so I have to make sure I keep my priorities very clear. Everything else would fall apart if I lost my job, so that gets the majority of my attention and focus. Conversely while I would be personally disappointed if I had to stop blogging, it’s the easiest thing on that list to sacrifice if it came into conflict with something else.

We all do this on a day-to-day basis. If you’re married, you have to find a way to prioritize your needs and those of your spouse (which is to say nothing of being a parent). If you’re a student, you have to find a way to make money that enables you enough free time to complete your readings and assignments and so on. Accordingly, there are always times when our priorities conflict with each other and we have to make a decision we’re not happy with.

What we have to do when making those difficult decisions is think what is in our long-term best interest – which of these prioritization decisions will yield the greatest benefit? Well, unless you’re the TCSB – then you just stick your fingers in your ears and insist that your stubborn refusal to accept reality is more important than the well-being of your fellow creatures. It is a particular brand of conceit that tells the world “my personal beliefs are more important than your equality under the law.”

The bizarre thing to me is how anyone in the board could possibly think this is a good idea. We’re not talking about some podunk town where the only gay guy within a 50 km radius lives in denial and constant fear. This is Toronto

Pictured: Toronto Chamber of Commerce

In a city with such a large, visible, and popular gay community, it is incomprehensible to me that an entire school board would fail to recognize what a PR disaster a movement to shame gay Catholic kids is. Ignoring for a moment the issue of human rights (since the board is happy to do so already), just on the simple basis of how this looks to the city at large, the board has stepped in it big time. Catholic organizations do not need to be caught showing their intolerance and bigotry out in the open, especially when it comes to matters of sex and morality. The entire church needs to rehabilitate its image, and pick its battles very carefully. Purely from a PR standpoint again – this was the wrong time and the wrong place to take a stand on making life harder for gay teens.

In general, however, the point needs to be made that human rights legislation was crafted for a reason – when left up to the mercy of society allowed to express all ideas in the open marketplace, we saw centuries of oppression of gay men and women from religious organizations. It’s only very recently, when public opinion underwent a sea change (due in no small part to the tireless efforts of gay rights activists), that churches began to revisit their stance on the issue. Human rights need protection, and while freedom of belief is indeed one of those rights, that does not license you to enact the consequences of those beliefs on others.

This decision was both philosophically and ethically wrong (nothing new for Catholic organizations, I’ll admit), but also extremely stupid from the perspective of rehabilitating the faith at a time when it needs all the allies it can get. Smart would have been to read the winds of public opinion and quietly shelve opposition to LGBT groups. Smarter still would have been to recognize that doctrine is not more important than human rights, and that students need the guidance and support of teachers – not condemnation affixed with an official seal.

Of course, smartest of all would be to simply recognize that the doctrine is stupid, and refuse to waste any time thinking about it, the way most Catholics do.

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  1. Curt says

    As a tax-paying Ontario resident I sincerely hope they try to push this through. There are a shit-ton of people I know that are in general support of Ontario’s catholic separate school board but if something like this were to occur they would immediately change their minds. Unfortunately, the separate school board has the image of being far better than its public counterpart and therefore even some atheists and nonpracticing catholics that I know would only send their kids into the separate school system.

    So again, I really hope this goes through, as it would be the beginning of the end for Ontario’s publicly funded religious school board…one would hope.

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