Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"A Useful, Essential, and Comprehensive Manual"

I recently came across another review of my 2007 book, Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective. This one’s written by Lakehead University professor Gerald Walton and was first published in the July 2008 issue of the Canadian Journal of Education.

As you’ll see, Walton takes issue with Genevieve Goodsil-Todd’s introduction to the book, and in particular her “problematic” and “irresponsible” position of supporting LGBT students without challenging “church teachings on homosexuality and the spread of harm and hate against LGBT families.”

Goodsil-Todd may not question and challenge church teaching on homosexuality, but elsewhere in the book I do. Indeed, as I noted in this previous Wild Reed post, it was because of such questioning that Archbishop Angelo Amato of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared, in a June 2007 letter to Archbishop Harry Flynn of the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese, that Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective was “not suitable to be used in Catholic schools.”

Following is Gerald Walton’s review.


A Review of
Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students:
A Catholic Schools Perspective

Michael J. Bayly. (Ed.). (2007). New York: Harrington Park.
152 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1-56023-606 (paperback)

By Gerald Walton
Canadian Journal of Education
July 2008

In her introduction to Michael J. Bayly’s Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students, Genevieve Goodsil-Todd argues that, “the crisis for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] students is a fundamentally spiritual one” (p. 1), meaning that LGBT youth struggle to find themselves within the image and likeness of God. Later, she asserts that, “the moral teachings on homosexuality . . . need not be compromised by programs that provide pastoral care to all students” (pp. 2-3, italics in original).

Her position is problematic, given that Human Rights Watch, (an organization dedicated to protecting human rights internationally) has named Pope Benedict XVI to their 2007 Hall of Shame. Goodsil-Todd does not address, and in doing so dismisses, the spread of harmful myths and misconceptions about LGBT people that descend from the very top of the Catholic hierarchy. Pope Benedict XVI has tremendous political sway over legions of followers. To suggest that Catholic educators can support LGBT students but not challenge church teachings on homosexuality and the spread of harm and hate against LGBT families strikes me as irresponsible. It is like saying that a bridge can be built on quicksand.

To be fair, Bayly’s book is dedicated towards supporting LGBT students in Catholic schools rather than addressing church-based bigotry. Yet, an introduction is a prominent feature of any book, and Goodsil-Todd has written one that casually ignores the Church’s clearly articulated anti-LGBT agenda. As an ex-“born-again” Christian, I can smell the “love the sinner, hate the sin” contradiction when it wafts through the air. It is not simply that the Church opposes homosexuality on moral grounds. Rather, according to Human Rights Watch, Pope Benedict XVI has actively “intervened in politics . . . to condemn . . . equal rights or any form of recognition for lesbian and gay families,” including marriage and adoption of children.

Attempting to foster safety for LGBT students in Catholic schools while not contesting the Church’s teachings on homosexuality and condemnation of gay and lesbian families is thus an ethically untenable position. Cultures of harm and stigma are exacerbated for the very students who are identified in Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students as needing protection. The teachings and political campaigns of powerful religious leaders, among others, validate environments that are already hostile towards LGBT youth in all schools, Catholic or otherwise.

Goodsil-Todd’s dismissal of papal-sanctioned bigotry undermines the very important and valid intent of the book, which is to facilitate the provision of safe learning environments for LGBT youth in Catholic schools. On that purpose, Bayly has edited a comprehensive and timely volume that illuminates issues that are – at least for many – difficult and contentious.

Bayly is the Project Coordinator of the Safe Schools Project, an initiative of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Although the book is primarily for educators who value gender identity and sexual orientation diversities in society and in Catholic schools, it attempts to appeal to those who do not. Bayly lays out how to facilitate five two-hour sessions that collectively foster inclusive schools for LGBT students and their families. In Session One (Laying the Foundations), participants discuss sexuality diversity, stereotypes, and myths of LGBT people, and recent research findings about LGBT youth in Catholic schools.

Session Two (Defining Safe Staff) focuses on understanding the roles and responsibilities of being an LGBT ally, discussing terms such as homophobia and heterosexism, and highlighting the harm to youth that results from not addressing either.

“Coming out” is the focus of Session Three. The complications and risks of coming out are effectively described, but they overshadow the benefits and rewards. Coming out can benefit both individual students and the school culture as a whole, risks notwithstanding.

Session 4 (The LGBT Reality and the Catholic Church) attends to the vexing questions about biblical interpretation and is applicable broadly rather than only to Catholic contexts. Bayly accurately notes that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. Prejudice, discrimination, and violence towards LGBT people, disguised as Christian morality and righteousness, are thus unacceptable and biblically unfounded. (Ted Haggard: take note!)

The final session (The Classroom Setting and Beyond) describes strategies for facilitating school cultures of respect, communicating effectively with parents, and forming supportive groups for LGBT youth and youth with LGBT family members. One section is especially effective at drawing connections between various types of oppression expressed in discriminatory language such as “Indian giver,” “retard,” “bitch,” (which looks silly described as “the ‘B’ word”), “fat,” and “that's so gay!” Slurs on the basis of religion, culture, racialized category, ethnicity, or physical ability, among others, could also have been included here.

All these sections would have been useful in 2002 as education for the administrators of Marc Hall’s Catholic public high school. Marc filed a human rights complaint when they did not allow him to take his same-sex partner to the prom, generating a flurry of publicity in the process. In short, he won.

LGBT youth exist in any school, even if they are “in the closet.” In Canada, various teachers’ organizations provide workshops and educational materials on LGBT issues, such as the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. The website of Gay and Lesbian Educators of British Columbia includes a wealth of resources on LGBT youth issues and how to challenge homophobic bullying. Bayly’s edited volume addresses some questions that are specific to Catholic educators. However, most of the lesson plans, handouts, and activities can be applied to any school context.

Given religiously-based backlash against LGBT visibility in society and legal rights that are equal to, but do not supercede those of heterosexuals (such as so-called “gay marriage” in Canada), Bayly’s book is a useful, essential, and comprehensive manual that addresses issues that are widely perceived as difficult and controversial. For those who are unconvinced, the bottom line is simple: all students deserve to learn in schools that are free of bigotry and violence. Bayly’s book is an excellent step in that direction.

– Gerald Walton
Faculty of Education, Lakehead University

Above: Signing a copy of Creating Safe Environments
for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective for my friend and
Roman Catholic Womanpriest, Rev. Regina Nicolosi - June 2007.

For other reviews of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective, see the previous Wild Reed posts:
“A Courageous Document”
“A Valiant Effort”

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Confronting Classroom Homophobia
One of These Boys is Not Like the Others
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection


Charlotte Thérèse said...


A totally off-topic note...

You wrote about women priests a while ago. Thought this might be of interest:


P.S. I've got a new blog now.

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Michael, on the mostly good Canadian review. The market for the book is evidently in Canada because their bishops are more enlightened than US bishops.

Interesting issue he raises about the contradiction: a "safe" environment cannot be made within the Catholic Church. True, students are by definition unsafe in an institution that calls their sexual orientation "disordered." Under that logic, parents should not send their GLBT children to Catholic school.

But weren't you addressing the concrete situation of students whose parents actually have put them in Catholic schools not knowing about their child's orientation or not knowing the Church's teaching, or not knowing the potentially harmful conditions?

Surely a school staff can do something to buffer their GLBT students in the concrete situation even though logically the kid should not be there.

Under the reviewer's logic the staff can't choose a strategy of working within an evil system to protect the children. They would have to object to the evil system and get fired.

Am I understanding this correctly?

Anonymous said...

Just curious, but are there similar books that address the situation of GLBT youth in the public schools? Is there much difference between the U.S. and Canadian situation there?