Monday, December 15, 2014

Bishop Henry, Bill 10 ... Lies, Lies and More Lies

If there is one thing that I find infuriating, it is when grown men like Bishop Henry lie.

In today's Calgary Herald, there is a copy of a pastoral letter that Bishop Henry has had distributed through the churches of his diocese.  In it, we find the following little gem:
The mandating of Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) is problematic for a number of reasons.  It infringes parental authority over their children, the freedom to instruct one's children in a manner consistent with their faith, and citizens rights to manifest their religious beliefs by worship and practice in the absence of coercion or constraint by government.
First of all, Bill 202 did not "mandate" the creation of GSAs.  What it does is remove the ability for a school board or school to refuse to allow a GSA to be created.

Nobody is saying that participation in a GSA is mandatory for the students, nor is it mandatory for parents to allow their children to participate in the GSA.  The obligation for schools is to allow the organization.  No more, no less.  The Bishop's argument here is a distortion of the reality - a lie.

As for the "freedom to instruct one's children", let's have a little discussion about that shall we?  Nobody is talking about the GSA being mandatory.  Nor is the GSA a "teaching" moment.  We are talking about a student led organization providing support to other students.  So, just where is this right being "infringed"?  I'm pretty sure that all sorts of school activities violate one aspect or another of either the bible or the RC Catechism, and we don't hear the bishops moaning about them.  Social groups in schools exist all the time.  If the RC church leaders think that they don't have gay students in their halls, perhaps they need to do some learning.

So, it must come down to the right to "manifest their religious beliefs ...".  Let's consider this for a moment.  The bishops are basically arguing that their beliefs trump the rights of students.  In this case, their "belief" that homosexuality is a sin.  So what?  That hasn't made it go away in the last 2,000 years or so, I don't think it's going away anytime soon.  Let's consider that discussion around "manifesting religious beliefs" a little further.  Who is manifesting which beliefs here?  Does the student not have a right to express their beliefs, or is that now a right reserved solely for the parents?  Do the rights of a religious school extend to, for example, not teaching science because they don't believe in evolution or they want to believe that the earth is flat?

The fact is that GSAs reduce suicide in the student population.  Religion doesn't reduce suicide among LGBTQ students.  In fact, arguably, "religious beliefs" are near the top of the list for reasons that LGBTQ youth end up suicidal.  Where do the hostile judgments come from most frequently?  Those who claim to have religious "belief" justifying them.  The most fervent of believers are often among the worst abusers in this regard.
A number of recent studies have identified groups of students who are most often bullied.  The Toronto District School Board Research Report reported that students most frequently face bullying attacks based on their physical appearance (38%), their grades or marks (17%) their cultural background (11%) or their gender (6%).  It is imperative that we address the root issue - bullying.
Yeah...let's talk about that for a minute.  38% of students have been harassed about their physical appearance.  According to Egale's survey of LGBTQ students in Canada,  74% of transgender students and 55% of LGB students have been verbally harassed; 37% of transgender students and 21% of LGB students have been physically assaulted in our schools.

I cannot emphasize enough how appalling this really is.  LGBTQ students are around 5% of the population, and yet they are grossly overrepresented as victims of bullying.  The numbers that Bishop Henry cites bury this reality.  Yes, we need to address bullying.  GSAs are a tool for doing so.  Whining because they place an emphasis on normalizing people's sexual and gender identities is simply an attempt at erasure.

Bill 10 is a bad piece of legislation.  Laurie Blakeman's Bill 202 was the correct solution to this problem in the first place.  Let me be absolutely clear about that.  There should be no exemptions.  Bullying is wrong.  Using your "faith" to justify erasure and continued harassment is wrong.

If Alberta students want to create a mutually supportive alliance in a school, that should be their right, without exception and without interference.

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