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Parents disrupt Catholic school board meeting to condemn "Safe Space" stickers
Police had to be called in after the York Catholic District School Board meeting in Ontario was disrupted
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Parents near Toronto disrupted a meeting of the York Catholic District School Board this week because they feared teachers were harming their students.
Those “safe space” stickers were created by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association a decade ago, but they became a point of contention after teachers in York began posting them in their classrooms earlier this year (mostly to replace older ones that had worn down over time). The signs, of course, are intended to let LGBTQ students know they’re welcome and loved in the school.
The Catholic Church has strict rules condemning same-sex relationships, marriage, and sex—even saying homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”—but the institution has mostly walked away from condemning people just for being gay and lesbian (assuming they’re celibate). In that sense, there’s nothing un-Catholic about those signs.
It’s a different story when it comes to transgender people. The Vatican says trans identities seek to “annihilate the concept of nature.“ The colors of the trans flag are seen on the left of those stickers.
But as we know, most practicing Catholics are far more tolerant than the pope or the Vatican. In the United States, 61% of Catholics support marriage equality while 76% believe society should be accepting of homosexuality. When it comes to trans people, they’re less understanding, with only 37% of U.S. Catholics acknowledging the existence of trans people, but that’s also in line with Americans as a whole and it’s 37% higher than the Vatican wants to see.
Which is all to say these “safe space” stickers are meaningful! They let students in Catholic schools know that even if the Vatican and their families won’t accept them, some adults in their schools do.
But some parents were so furious when they learned about these stickers that police had to be called in after the adults disrupted the board meeting on Tuesday.
Carlo Ravenna, one of the parents, spoke directly to the board about the stickers in a pre-approved deputation.
"They shouldn't say 'safe space.' They should say 'danger zone,'" he said at the meeting. "Preaching confusion in the guise of inclusivity and acceptance is truly disgusting."
Sheree di Vittorio, another parent who made a virtual deputation, told the board, "Catholic schools should not allow transgender or LGBT students to attend."
"It is most certainly not appropriate to engage kids to be open to these ideologies. There are biblical reasons why homosexuality is considered a sin … regardless of what Pope Francis may think," she said.
Obviously, Ravenna and di Vittorio are far more of a threat to children that stickers that let kids know they’re loved. The stickers aren’t confusing if you believe the Christian God is defined by love rather than hate. It’s also absurd to think schools could kick out LGBTQ students even if they wanted to because how would they know. These parents are just Catholic bigots and deserve to be treated as such.
While video of the board meeting was made private on YouTube, one right-wing website posted clips from the haters. Ravenna proudly spread lies about LGBTQ people while claiming (with no evidence) that kids weren’t being properly educated.
Di Vittorio complained that if kids learn anything about gay people, they might think “being gay is okay.” Just pure hate in the name of faith. The audience’s shouts of “shame” and calling for board members to “resign” came afterwards, which led to a short recess during the meeting and led the police to take action when the meeting couldn’t get back to order.
While LGBTQ kids may not get the same warm welcome inside the Catholic Church, one teacher pointed out that they are also legal reasons to oppose anti-LGBTQ bigotry:
"They need to understand that this is Ontario, this is Canada, that there are certain basic human rights that students have," [Paulo] de Buono said.
"This is a public school board. It may have the word 'Catholic' in it, and that includes certain privileges, but it does not include the right to treat students so wrongly."
To be clear, the school board members aren’t exactly heroes here. A statement released by the board said they didn’t even know about the stickers but they merely allow them:
… The YCDSB has supported teachers in choosing to display or not display these stickers in their classroom, based on their personal beliefs.
The Board of Trustees did not see the stickers or approve them before they were distributed.
As a Catholic learning community, we are committed to promoting equity and the Gospels, because we believe that everyone is made in the image of God and is worthy of love. We also have a legal obligation to ensure the well-being of all our students, according to government policy.
It’s not exactly a profile of courage for a school board to say they want to “ensure the well-being” of students because they “have a legal obligation” to do so. But when it comes to the Catholic Church, mere tolerance is sometimes the best you can hope for.
The good news is that the stickers aren’t going anywhere and the parents who want a more hateful school can always take their kids elsewhere or homeschool them. Everyone else will be far better off—and much safer—if those families leave.