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TCDSB under fire for eliminating LGBTQ2 online resources

Click to play video 'TCDB under fire for eliminating LGBTQ2 online resources' TCDB under fire for eliminating LGBTQ2 online resources
WATCH ABOVE: The Toronto Catholic District School Board is facing criticism following a decision to remove a key resource available to LGBTQ2 students. Many advocacy groups have been weighing in calling the move a validation of homophobia and transphobia. Morganne Campbell explains. – Jan 12, 2021

NOTE: Late on Jan. 13, the Toronto Catholic District School Board told Global News following a meeting with YouthLine who was “responsive to our concern” the link to YouthLine has been reposted and “further engagement with YouthLine will continue.” TCDSB said an “external links disclaimer has also been applied.” Original story is below:

A meeting took place today and YouthLine was responsive to our concern. As a result of the meeting, the link to YouthLine has been reposted and further engagement with YouthLine will continue.An ‘external links disclaimer’ has also been applied.Thank you,TCDSB Communications

The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) is facing criticism following a decision to remove a key resource available to LGBTQ2 students.

“It was brought to our attention that their website had third-party resources which included content that is not appropriate for school-aged children,” writes TCDSB spokesperson Shazia Vlahos.

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The website in question is the LGBT YouthLine, which is considered a critical resource for students. The youth-led organization has been around for over 25 years and is a resource school boards across the province depend on.

Read more: TCDSB trustee censured over ‘inflammatory’ comments made during LGBTQ2-related motion in 2019

“I feel like the LGBTQ community always has to be jumping through hoops or going through scrutiny to prove that we are age-appropriate or that what we are doing is OK for students to have access to, when the history of our organization, the reputation that we have, should give us enough trust to be considered an appropriate resource,” said executive director Berkha Gupta.

The concerns surround a third-party link regarding various articles that detail topics related to sexual health.

“The link was removed to allow staff an opportunity to connect with YouthLine to better understand their resources and to ensure continued support for youth in need of services,” said Vlahos.

In a statement, YouthLine said it learned about the TCDSB’s decision in a Jan. 8 email attached to a controversial story written by Joe Volpe of the Italian-language daily Corriere Canadese.

Student trustee Keith Baybayon, who is bisexual, is worried the move limits access to important information, especially during a pandemic when other services, such as counselling, aren’t necessarily as easily accessible.

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“We lack the connection needed in real life so it’s really helpful that we have these online resources re-instated back within our own website and I’m really encouraging staff to continue working with the YouthLine organization in terms of fully reinstating the link back within our own website,” Baybayon said during a Zoom call with Global News.

Pride Toronto took to Twitter to weigh in on the move, calling it “another example of systemic homophobia and transphobia that continues to run deep within the publicly-funded school board.”

“We call on the TCDSB to reverse its decision and reinstate LGBT YouthLine as a resource for marginalized and vulnerable 2SLGBTQ+ youth within the TCDSB’s system. Further, we call for a formal review of the systemic homophobia and transphobia that persists within the TCDSB.”

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Experts are concerned the removal of the resource could push students to other sites that may promote misinformation.

“That’s why it’s so important to have something like a reliable, consistent lifeline,” says Peter A Newman, a professor with the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

“You know with folks that are running it, who know what they are doing and who are consistently responding to students in an appropriate and consistent way,” added Newman.

Advocacy groups are also concerned.

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Toronto Catholic District School Board vice-chair faces calls for resignation – Nov 22, 2019

“I would question the decision quality behind it and I would question completely removing the resource. It’s just not OK any way you slice it,” says Tristan Coolman, the president of Pflag York Region.

“They need to reconcile about whether this was the right decision or not, whether this really truly reflects a good action and a good support for LGTBQ youth and we’re here today saying it’s not good action.”

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YouthLine would like to see the board do the following:

  • Immediately reinstate LGBT YouthLine in its resources for youth.
  • Connect with YouthLine to have its posters and information available at each school, similar to hundreds of schools across Ontario.
  • Issue a statement taking accountability for the harm they have caused by removing YouthLine due to an inflammatory and hateful article.

“We are grateful to our supporters, and those that continue to fight for 2SLGBTQ youth, especially in Catholic schools across Ontario. We are proud and humbled to have been voted NOW Magazine’s Best Youth Organization for two years in a row. We don’t take this lightly and work hard to keep the trust that youth (and those that support them) have in us,” writes Gupta.

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YouthLine has agreed to meet with board representatives and hopes to do so by the end of the week.