Canadian Secular Alliance Rally Rouses Hope and Faith
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Canadian Secular Alliance Rally Rouses Hope and Faith

The rally to support defunding of Ontario's Catholic schools amassed a small but impassioned turnout.

“Ontario Can’t Afford Religious Discrimination” read the banner behind the speaker’s podium at Sunday afternoon’s Canadian Secular Alliance rally to protest public funding of Catholic schools. The costs, as a spirited roster of speakers told a quietly attentive audience outside the Ontario Legislature, are as financial as they are moral. Education Equality in Ontario president Leonard Baak pointed out that institutional duplication means that each Catholic school system student costs $515 more to educate than his or her secular counterpart.

Maybe pragmatic arguments weren’t necessary to sway this small crowd of roughly 100 attendees, many of whom stood toting signs demanding the cessation of faith-based bigotry (and wearing T-shirts gently reminding the world that “Some chicks marry other chicks. Get over it.”). But numbers and dollar signs certainly don’t hurt in lending additional heft to arguments rooted in emotions.

And the emotions were undeniable. Toronto Centre Green Party of Ontario candidate Mark Daye shared a personal account of his previous life as a closeted newlywed and guilt-ridden Catholic who, when he went to his parish priest with a heartfelt plea for guidance, was instructed to pray the gay away. It didn’t work. “The advice that I received, is this the kind of advice that our students need and deserve?”

Marlene Miranda, a teacher with the TCDSB and an out lesbian, attended the rally as an act of solidarity with LGBT students as well as teachers in the Catholic school system, whose portion of the story is often omitted from the debate at large. Miranda is currently under suspension by the district; while she wouldn’t say outright whether this disciplinary action is a result of her outing, she said, “I had to [conceal my sexual orientation], encouraged by various factions that are involved with my employment status with the Catholic school board. But I am who I am. And you can’t hide that.”

Miranda found encouragement in the rally’s small but impassioned attendance. “I do wonder, how can so many good people not do the right thing? But we’ll get there. I have hope and faith.” She added, “Since obtaining the right to marriage, this is the next major struggle [for the gay community] in this province.”

Not all rally attendees arrived with a clear queer-rights mandate, however; Tom Skorupski showed up to Queen’s Park with his wife Tanja Leigh and toddler son in tow primarily in support of school choice. “I’m looking for a house, and some of the houses that I’ve found in Mississauga are surrounded by Roman Catholic schools. This idea of having a separate school system for Catholics is infringing on my right to send my son to whatever school I want to, and it’s being paid [for] by my tax dollars.”

Tanja Leigh, who recently finished a teacher training program, agreed and also noted: “I think people should be who they are without any fear. And I feel that in Catholic school systems there’s a lot of fear.” She hopes to teach elementary school students to feel empowered in their own right.

In the meantime, a piece of advice offered by Rick Mercer (who wasn’t in attendance but sent a written statement to be read aloud): “If the Catholic school board is successful in banning gay-straight alliances, you can always join the drama club, which is basically the same thing. That’s what I did.”

Photos by Jonathan Castellino.

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