Toronto Catholic school board votes to include gender identity, expression in code of conduct

Following months of contentious debate, the Toronto Catholic school board voted to amend its code of conduct to include broader protections for LGBTQ students.

'It was a great win last night,' said trustee Norm Di Pasquale

Maria Rizzo, chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, was among those who supported the motion. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Following months of contentious debate, the Toronto Catholic school board voted to amend its code of conduct to include broader protections for LGBTQ students.

At a marathon meeting that lasted until nearly 2 a.m. Friday, trustees voted eight-to-four in favour of a motion to add four terms to the board's code: gender identity, gender expression, family status and marital status.

All four terms are identified in the Ontario Human Rights Code as prohibited grounds for discrimination.

The issue had divided trustees and parents since it first surfaced in March. The motion initially went to a board subcommittee, called Catholic Education and Living our Catholic Values, that voted against adding the terms, arguing they contravene the church's teachings.

Those divisions were on display at the seven-hour meeting, with multiple parents vehemently arguing against an expanded code of conduct.

Norm Di Pasquale, a trustee for Ward 9, was among those who supported the motion.

"It was a great win last night," Di Pasquale said.

"I feel actually extremely positive about the result. We got a pretty strong majority to approve a code that is inclusive and protects the marginalized."

He added that it "would have been ideal to reach this conclusion much quicker than we did."

He said the vote sends a strong message to LGBTQ students in the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB).

"No matter who you are, you belong. And I want them all to understand that."

Paolo de Buono, an elementary teacher at St. James Catholic School and one of the earliest proponents of the motion, said the meeting got especially heated when a faction tried to have the vote deferred for several weeks.

"To be frank, it got very ugly at that point," he told CBC Toronto.

Now that the matter has been decided, the entire school community "can move on and build," de Buono said.

"What I regretted most was that it took this long. It needed closure."

The TCDSB's move comes on the heels of an order from the Ontario Ministry to Education to boards across the province to update their codes of conduct.

An October 2018 directive from the ministry said noted that the provincial code of conduct had been revised to include the four terms, and school boards should follow suit. Another directive in August said that the amendments should be made by Nov. 4. 

In an email statement to CBC Toronto, Education Minister Stephen Lecce expressed his support for "TCDSB affirming the importance of human rights and human dignity for all children.

"I have long believed that every child should see themselves reflected in their class, curriculum, and school community."

Di Pasquale noted that the TCDSB has hired a human rights adviser who will help schools move forward with more inclusive policies.

With files from Kate McGillivray


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