New groups in place of gay-straight alliances will marginalize teens, former Halton students says

New groups in place of gay-straight alliances at Halton Catholic schools isn’t enough, a gay former students says.

James Hopkins, 19, says the Halton Catholic District School Board’s new proposed groups, By Your SIDE — which stands for safety, inclusivity, diversity, equity — won’t deal primarily with issues pertaining to homosexuality.

“It’s great that they’re all for equality but just by marginalizing all students into focus groups they’re not going to be able to address all the issues appropriately,” Hopkins said. “Everyone’s problems are different. It just doesn’t make any sense.

“This (SIDE spaces) is half-ass work,” Hopkins said. “It’s not enough until everyone is treated the same. To settle for anything less is accepting defeat.”

A revised policy voted on by trustees last week suggests gay-straight alliances are not allowed, despite a ruling passed in January that lifted an initial ban on the groups in Halton Catholic schools.

According to a memo by the Halton Catholic District School Board, By Your SIDE will be a group where students “will be invited to dialogue concerning issues of equity, inclusivity, diversity and safety in order to determine how our schools may be more welcoming for all members within our school communities.”

Hopkins, who lobbied against the initial ban, admitted the By Your SIDE groups are a start, but feels the board hasn’t done anything progressive. He said their hearts are in the right place but pastoral guidelines, which prohibit homosexuality, are preventing them from doing things effectively and quickly.

Board superintendent Mary Tessari said SIDE spaces will be better than a gay-straight alliance because students can benefit from their peers to make schools more accepting.

“When SIDE spaces is created they can be different from school to school based on the issues of the students,” she said. “(The program encourages) students to support one another.”

Lisa Stocco, who works in the communications services at the Halton Catholic District School Board, says the groups are meant to promote understanding to all students.

“(SIDE spaces will be) representative to needs of all students; regardless of culture, religion, sexual orientation,” she said. “It’s going to bring together groups of students who feel the same way, but for different reasons.”

The policy was approved by trustees and will now be circulated to parents, parish priests, school administration and church councils. If the feedback is positive in these circles, the policy will undergo a second approval in about two weeks, before it can be established.