Calgary bishop calls Alberta school gender guidelines 'totalitarian' and 'anti-Catholic'

Calgary's Catholic bishop has denounced as 'totalitarian' and 'anti-Catholic' the province's new guidelines for respecting students' gender identity.

School boards have until the end of March to approve their own policies

Bishop Fred Henry, 72, was installed as the seventh bishop of Calgary in 1998. (CBC)

Calgary's Roman Catholic bishop has denounced as "totalitarian" and "anti-Catholic" the province's new guidelines for respecting students' gender identity.

"This approach and directive smack of the madness of relativism and the forceful imposition of a particular narrow-minded anti-Catholic ideology," Bishop Fred Henry wrote in a blog post on the website of the Catholic diocese of Calgary.

"Such a totalitarian approach is not in accordance with [Canadian law] and must be rejected," he added, in a post titled "Totalitarianism in Alberta."

The guidelines were released by Education Minister David Eggen on Wednesday in Edmonton.

The document advises school boards to develop policies that let students choose which washroom to use, the name on their report cards and the sports teams they wish to play on.

'Pure secularism'

The bishop writes: "[The guidelines] show no evidence of consultation with or sensitivity to the Catholic community. They breathe pure secularism."

School boards have been given until the end of March to approve their own policies, which must conform with the provincial guidelines.

The Calgary Board of Education said Wednesday that it didn't expect any problems complying with the province's new guidelines for respecting students' gender identity.

The supervisor of psychological services at the board, Tamara Gordon, said the division's policy is nearly ready. She called the guidelines a "great support to our system," but added they're likely to have a "pretty profound impact" on school boards in general in the province.

The Catholic Church, the bishop said, espouses a "rather simple" teaching that God created beings as male and female and that "men and women should respect and accept their sexual identity."

Henry voiced his disapproval of student-led gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and queer-straight alliances (QSA).

"GSAs and QSAs are highly politicized ideological clubs which seek to cure society of 'homophobia' and 'heterosexism,' and which accept the idea that all forms of consensual sexual expression are legitimate. The view of sexuality that they espouse is not Catholic," he wrote.

Henry said Catholic schools support "inclusive communities" where every person is treated with dignity and respect.

Education minister responds

Eggen said discussions with school boards will continue and there will soon be meetings with Catholic Church leaders as well.

"Certainly I knew this wasn't going to be easy, but important things are never necessarily easy to achieve," Eggen told The Canadian Press Thursday.

"We'll receive different opinions on this, but I always take it back to first principles, which is to protect and to focus on children, especially young vulnerable children in regards to gender identities. Once we do remind ourselves of those things, then it becomes clearer what has to be done," he said.

Transgender church leader weighs in

Pace Anhorn is the director of Young Queer Church, a monthly service in Calgary. He says the bishop's language is over the top.

"It's a little bit shocking that [he] takes it to that degree, that this is a radical sexual movement and that we are setting up these ideological clubs," said Anhorn, who is a transgender man.

Pace Anhorn is the director of a new faith project for young LGBT Christians. 'Trying to solidify that homophobia is OK. That kind of bothers me,' he says of the bishop's remarks. (CBC)

"It is a little bit shocking that we go to that greater degree of trying to solidify that homophobia is OK. That kind of bothers me."

Anhorn said he fully supports the province's guidelines, because he says LGBT youth face higher rates of homelessness and suicide than the rest of the population.

The Calgary Board of Education says it is ready to implement the province's new LGBT gender expression guidelines. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

With files from The Canadian Press


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