EDMONTON — Just 18 per cent of Catholics in Alberta oppose gay-straight alliances in schools, according to a new poll.
The Leger survey, released Monday, found 52 per cent are strongly or somewhat in favour of GSAs, student-led support groups for LGBTQ students and their peers. The rest of the roughly 1,000 Catholic Albertans who were polled neither opposed nor supported GSAs.
GSAs were the subject of the Alberta PC party’s contentious Bill 10 that was put on hold Dec. 4 after it triggered widespread scorn and outrage. The bill replaced Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s private member’s bill 202, which would have mandated gay-straight alliances in any school where a student requested one.
On Sunday, Calgary’s Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry and Edmonton Archbishop Richard W. Smith both spoke in support of Bill 10. The bill “enshrined parental rights, recognized the autonomy of local school boards and the students’ rights regarding diversity clubs, without mandating gay-straight alliances,” Henry said in an open letter.
Marni Panas, a transgender woman who attends Exaltation of the Holy Cross Ukrainian Catholic Parish in Edmonton with her family, called the bishops’ comments “disappointing.” In her experience, she says Catholics are kind and loving.
Panas, who was designated male at birth but started living as her true gender, female, several months ago, said since she told her story on Global Edmonton, she has received several positive messages from members of her congregation and from families whose children attend her son’s Catholic school.
“I’ve come to believe that when left to the people of my church, the ‘average’ Catholics, the true teachings of my faith will prevail,” she said in a Facebook post.
“We do not need the ‘permission’ of certain leaders to be kind, welcoming, compassionate and loving.”
You can read her full Facebook post below:
Calgary Reverend John Pentland said on Sunday that Bishop Henry’s comments are not helpful to Catholics who support GSAs and object to Bill 10.
“I’m sure it’s confusing for people, for friends, and our Catholic faith to have their leader say such a thing. I hope they use their own mind and conscience and let their MLAs know.”
According to Dr. Kristopher Wells with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, there are more than 90 GSAs in Alberta’s public schools, but not one has been allowed by a Catholic school board.
“For whom do these school boards speak?” Wells asked in a statement. “It doesn’t appear to be the Catholic community; and it is certainly not the young LGBTQ students who need our support and protection.
“It is time for Alberta to stick up for its kids.”
A study published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence found the rate of suicide among gay youth drops significantly when their school has a GSA.
With files from Su-Ling Goh and Lisa MacGregor, Global News and The Canadian Press