Catholic school board says "misunderstanding" is at the root of man's petition
More than 200 people have signed an online petition calling for the Ottawa Catholic District School Board to allow gay-straight alliances in their schools.
Julien McArdle started a petition to get rid of a ban on gay-straight alliances, but the Catholic school board says there is no such ban in place. (Photo: Allendria Brunjes)
Julien McArdle, a gay 25-year-old who grew up in Gloucester, started the petition because he feels that Catholic schools are targeting gay and lesbian students by not allowing gay-straight alliances.
"It's just to get this ban out of the way," he said. "They're targeting students, and I kind of see that as being harmful to the students. It's trying to stop that in my community."
McArdle referenced an analysis published in Xtra, a gay and lesbian-focused publication read across Canada. Their investigation found that none of the 29 Catholic school boards in Ontario had a gay-straight alliance in any of their schools.
Gay-straight alliances are student organizations intending to provide a safe and supportive community for anyone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and their straight allies.
However, Ottawa Catholic School Board communications officer Mardi de Kemp denies that there is a ban on gay-straight alliances.
"We're aware of Mr. McArdle's petition, and the petition is asking for a retraction of something we don't currently have," she said. "We don't have a ban on gay-straight alliances, nor do we have a policy banning gay-straight alliances."
When asked whether a student could start a gay-straight alliance in an Ottawa Catholic school, de Kemp said it would be up to the principal of the school to decide the best way to support students.
"If someone tried to start a gay-straight alliance, they would be getting support from the school principal in terms of – they support all kinds of interests and clubs. So if they go to the school principal, they would get support for whatever it is they're trying to do," she said.
When asked whether that answer was a yes or no, de Kemp said, "That would be whatever I just said. The principal has to assess the best way to meet the students' needs."
Superintendent of schools and safe schools Peter Atkinson said all schools received provincial funding to make schools safer and more caring environments.
"Many of the schools have chosen initiatives which focus specifically on bullying prevention and intervention," he said.
He noted that while other groups focus on healthy lifestyles, healthy choices, diversity and multiculturalism, there are no gay-straight alliances to his knowledge.
"I've not heard that term used," he said.
McArdle, who went to a Catholic elementary school, said he thinks these other groups are great, but not enough to combat homophobia.
"Their position is that they're doing all these things to combat bullying," he said. "They mentioned that they have 100 clubs and activities to help students – not one of which was a gay-straight alliance."