For five years, Tonya Callaghan taught in Calgary Catholic schools, an environment she says wasn’t safe for her or the LGBTQ students she was trying to support.
“I was told ‘we have our own Catholic response to these sensitive issues in the Catholic schools,'” Callaghan said.
She quit her job in 2004, beginning work on what would become a book, published in fall 2018.
Homophobia in the Hallways explores stories of Catholic teachers and students Callaghan interviewed, alleging “religiously inspired homophobia and transphobia” at Alberta Catholic schools, a claim the CCSD denies.
“There’s the equality right in the Canadian Charter to make sure that we are all treated equally. So why are we zeroing in on this very vulnerable gender and sexuality minority group?” Callaghan said.
In one example from her book, a teacher says in 2004 she began hosting LGBTQ students in her classroom at lunch and was fired after she refused to take down a diversity sticker advertising the club on a window of her classroom.
Global News spoke with six current Calgary Catholic teachers, promising them anonymity over fears they would lose their jobs for voicing concerns. They suggest they face challenges in not outing students who approach them in trust.
“The directive is to send the students to the counsellor. As a teacher, we can have a student disclose and take in that information so that it can be given to the counsellor,” said one teacher. “As teachers, we’re not necessarily trusted to talk to students about those issues.”
Calgary Catholic said it respects the privacy of students and the need for additional support, like counselling, is assessed on a case-by-case basis. While the district couldn’t speak to human resource matters, it suggests GSA advertisements are student-led.
“Students often create posters in their schools and have P.A. announcements and have other ways of sharing information and communicating,” said Jennifer Woo, the director of instructional services for religion and family life at the Calgary Catholic School District.
The district’s administrative policy document, “Dealing with Sensitive Issues in the School,” which included human sexuality, says in part: “The district expects that all teachers will support parents/legal guardians as primary educators by presenting with clarity the teachings of the Catholic Church when addressing any sensitive issues.”
But some teachers who spoke to Global News say that hasn’t been enough to prevent a homophobic culture from persisting at Calgary Catholic schools.
“The philosophy and the culture of the Catholic church permeates through the Catholic schools. Yes the Bishop has a lot to do with that. The Catholic church has a lot of their own values instilled within the Catholic school and a lot of them are fantastic, but when we’re getting into the point of excluding a certain group or not doing all we can to include a GSA or those types of students, then we’re really not doing the job of welcoming all students and giving them a safe environment and loving them,” one teacher said.
Woo denies there is institutionalized homophobia at the CSSD saying, “we work with our students in really making our schools places where everyone belongs so that everyone can be really successful… We work diligently to make sure that they are all cared for and loved.”