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Letter calls out Whitehorse Catholic school textbook as homophobic

The Department of Education building in Whitehorse. The department says homophobic and transphobic teachings aren't allowed in schools. (Yukon Department of Education - image credit)
The Department of Education building in Whitehorse. The department says homophobic and transphobic teachings aren't allowed in schools. (Yukon Department of Education - image credit)

A letter that appears to be from a group of parents is sounding the alarm about a textbook with homophobic content used at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Secondary School in Whitehorse.

The letter, signed by "concerned parents of St. Francis students," says parents have made several attempts to address the issue with the school, and have been ignored. The letter was mailed to several community organizations, including CBC Yukon, and contains a number of concerns outlining a multi-year trend of prejudice at the school.

"This is not Catholicism. This is hate," reads the letter. "Our children are not disordered. They deserve to feel safe in their classrooms."

The letter is attached to several pages photocopied from a textbook titled "Called to Happiness: Guiding Ethical Principles.

The excerpted pages discuss "moral law" relating to human sexuality. It says homosexual acts are "disordered" and "go against nature." The book similarly teaches against masturbation and using birth control, also describing them as "disordered" acts.

According to the letter, the textbook has been used for several years, despite repeated complaints from students. It says some students still fear academic penalties for objecting, while parents are afraid of casting an unwanted spotlight on their children if they sound the alarm too loudly.

The letter says that the textbook and related lessons go against the Yukon government's Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy (SOGI), which was updated last August to more fully protect LGBTQ2S+ students.

A member of the school council confirmed that the textbook is used in a Grade 12 Morals and Ethics class. Monica Best, the council's co-chair, said the council was unavailable for an interview before the print deadline. However, she said in an email that "as it is a Catholic morals and ethics textbook, it is a given that some of its content is based in a paradigm anthropologically different from that of SOGI."

The letter accuses Best of actively opposing SOGI in her role on the school council.

In an emailed statement, the Yukon Department of Education said the "matter is being addressed at the school level." The department did not clarify how the matter was being addressed, but said that homophobic and transphobic teachings aren't permitted in schools.

"Catholic schools in Yukon are public schools, and Catholic educators are Yukon public servants," the statement reads. "The Department of Education will continue to encourage and support schools to meet their legal obligations to support 2SLGBTQIA+ students."

A "test case" for SOGI

Queer Yukon also received a copy of the letter. Mona Luxion, Queer Yukon's executive director, said the excerpts were blatantly homophobic and transphobic.

"It's really difficult to read," Luxion said in a phone interview. "It's pretty upsetting to see that kind of language in a textbook, especially in 2024."

Luxion said the letter is an example of the importance of the SOGI policy, which provides leverage against homophobia and transphobia in the classroom and theoretically calls on the government to be accountable to student safety. This will be an opportunity for that to happen, to the extent that was promised when SOGI came into effect last summer.

"It feels like a test case for the SOGI policy and how it gets implemented at the school level," Luxion said.

Students should never feel like they have to choose between their academic success and safety, mental wellness and transparency about who they are, Luxion continued. The letter being posted anonymously is evidence in itself that there's a real fear of repercussion in the community. Addressing that lack of safety should be the government's first priority, they said.

"What I want more than anything is for students not to feel like they need to hide in order to get through school," Luxion said.

Luxion said that students or parents seeking support or resources can find those on Queer Yukon's website or in person. The organization also hosts drop-in hours from Tuesday to Friday at The Cache in the Yukon Inn plaza.