On Nov. 8, following a marathon seven-hour meeting, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, voted 8-4 to add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to its Code of Conduct.
The largest Catholic school board in Canada, which is responsible for 90,000 students, updated its Code of Conduct for employees and students: “all members of the school community must: respect and treat others fairly, regardless of, for example, race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.”
Pro-family and parental rights groups are worried that the move will require Catholic students and teachers to adhere to gender ideology, which is contrary to Catholic moral teaching, that biological males can transition into females and that biological females can become males; gender ideology also maintains that gender is fluid.
Before the vote, Jeff Gunnarson, president of Campaign Life Coalition, said “In order to keep the madness of transgender ideology out of Catholic schools, it must be rejected by a vote of the whole board.”
Prior to the meeting, CLC organized a petition, signed by nearly 3,000 people, urging Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins to direct trustees to vote against including the terms.
Both CLC and Parents as First Educators encouraged supporters to attend the board meetings to voice opposition to including gender identity and gender expression to the Code of Conduct and to support the trustees who were resisting its inclusion.
In 2018, the Ontario government required all school boards to amend their Codes of Conduct to reflect Ontario human rights legislation, and add gender identity, gender expression, marital status, and family status as protected groups, by Nov. 4, 2019.
When the meeting ended at 2 a.m., four trustees – Nancy Crawford, Michael Del Grande, Teresa Lubinski, and Garry Tanuan – voted against the amendment.
Trustees Frank D’Amico, Joe Martino, Markus De Domenico, Ida Li Preti, Maria Rizzo, Norm Di Pasquale, Daniel Di Giorgio and Angela Kennedy voted in favor of the amendment.
A TCDSB staff report submitted just before the meeting, claimed the Archdiocese of Toronto had approved adding the terms with the proviso that these be “interpreted through the lens of the Catholic faith.” The report “was the first time the archdiocese’s views on the matter had been made public,” reported the Toronto Star.
Jack Fonseca, director of political operations for Campaign Life Coalition explained that “there’s no such thing as ‘a Catholic lens,’ through which people can be taught to respect sin and embrace sin.” He added: “Gender identity theory directly attacks the image of God in creation, which was created male and female, and an attack on the image of God is a form of apostasy.”
The TCDSB was under tremendous pressure to amend the Code of Conduct. At a committee meeting examining the issue in August, a representative of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association urged the board – the last one to approve the provincially mandated change – to amend the Code of Conduct, suggesting that it could reflect poorly on all separate school boards and endanger their funding if the TCDSB did not follow suit.
In September, the Ontario Human Rights Commission sent the board a letter admonishing it to add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to its Code of Conduct. The OHRC said in a letter to board chair, Maria Rizzo, that “addressing gender identity, gender expression, family status, and marital status in the Code of Conduct is necessary for the TCDSB to meet its obligations under the Education Act, the Ministry of Education’s Policy/Program Memorandum No. 128: The Provincial Code of Conduct and School Board Codes of Conduct, and Ontario’s Human Rights Code.”
In October, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce publicly stated he expected that the board would follow Ontario’s human rights legislation. He said, “My message to the board is quite clear. My expectation is that every child irrespective of their differences can see themselves reflected in schools and more importantly that they will adhere to the Ontario Human Rights Code.”
Among the delegates who spoke in favour of the amendments was the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, pro-LGBT teachers and parents, and LGBT activist and former student trustee Kyle Iannazzi, who claimed the amendments were a matter of “life and death” for gay and transgender students.
Trustee Rizzo was leading the push to include the terms. She said it was a mere formality of the province listening to the provincial directive and denied that the board is condoning gender theory or homosexuality. But she has also criticized opponents of the change for adhering to out-dated views on Catholic moral teaching. When the amendment was passed at 1:40 in the morning, she told the Toronto Star: “God heard my prayers.” She said, “We finally, finally, after months and months of turmoil and creating this division, we finally came together as a board and did the right thing by our students and our families.”
Among those who spoke against the amendment at various meetings were Campaign Life Coalition, Queenie Yu of the Say No To Sex-Ed Party, concerned parents, and former students.
Yu urged Trustees to stand on their Catholic denominational rights as guaranteed under Section 93 of the Constitution which provides Catholic schools the right to transmit the teachings of the Catholic faith to students. She said that the Ontario Human Rights Commission does not have authority in law and that the Board is not obliged to add the terms despite the Minister of Education’s directive.
Yu urged trustees to support Nancy Crawford’s amendment, which reflected language that Fr. Peter Turrone proposed in August: “That all members of the TCDSB community shall respect and treat others fairly, as children of God, created in the image and likeness of God, of infinite dignity and worth.”
That motion was voted for, 4-1, on Oct. 30, in the Education and Living our Catholic Values sub-committee. That language removed the government’s detailed list of protected groups in favour of a inclusive and Catholic language. Crawford said in that meeting, “A Catholic school board should be able to use Catholic language in its teachings, codes of conduct, policies and documents.” Crawford explained, “For example gender expression and gender identity are descriptions that are alien to the Catholic understanding of the person.”
Crawford also stood in defense of Catholic education’s denominational rights: “Our constitutional right to exist as a Catholic education system should allow us to express our faith values among our community.”
Michael Del Grande asked what use it was to have a separate Catholic school system if it would not stand up for Catholic moral teaching.
After the vote, CLC issued a statement saying that the board and archdiocese had betrayed Catholic moral teaching. It launched a petition urging Cardinal Collins to challenge the board’s decision: “As Cardinal of the Toronto Catholic Archdiocese, a pre-eminent moral and spiritual leader within the Catholic community nation-wide, and as a visible representative of Christianity to society at large, your words, advice, and direction carry enormous weight. You have the power to promote Catholic values and uphold the Christian worldview, or to undermine and discredit those values and that worldview. I believe you are doing the latter, bringing great harm to the Church and to ‘the least of these’ – the children – who rather ought to be protected and nurtured by the teaching ministry of the Church through the Toronto Catholic District School Board. I pray that you will reconsider your position in support of Gender Theory and direct the School Board to reject the addition of ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’ to the Code of Conduct.”
On Nov. 12, CLC organized a pray-in outside the Cardinal’s offices to encourage action by the prelate.
The day before, the archdiocese issued a clarification on the changes to the Code of Conduct which stated “while the archdiocese recognizes that terms such as gender identity are included in the Code, we do not accept the view of the human person which underlies this terminology, since that view is not compatible with our faith.”
Campaign Life has also petitioned for board chair Maria Rizzo to resign over the matter.