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Holy Homophobia!

Education professor researches policies on sexual orientation in separate schools

Sometimes an event takes place that affects us so profoundly, it alters how we think about an issue. It might even change the course of our life's work.

Holy Homophobia! lecture by Tonya Callaghan

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Such was the case for Tonya Callaghan, when the suicide of a student in the Catholic high school in which she was teaching served as a catalyst for her research into anti-oppression education.

The promising young drama student had suffered several months of bullying at school as a result of his sexual orientation, and Callaghan began to question the school's commitment to the provincial mandate of creating a safe and caring environment for all students.

"I was told that the Catholic school district does not necessarily adhere to every aspect of the Alberta Teacher's Association's guidelines," says Callaghan, an Assistant Professor in the Werklund School of Education.  "Further, I was told that our board was developing its own response to sensitive issues, such as sexual orientation, in Catholic schools."

"The subtext of this 'Catholic response' does not bode well for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gender or questioning (LGBTQ) people because this usually means maintaining close ties to Catholic doctrine."

The student's death moved Callaghan to take action regarding the school system's policies and practices regarding LGBTQ students and faculty by engaging in research about it. She resigned from her teaching position to pursue graduate studies, and today, she writes about the ways some publicly funded Catholic school districts in Canada interpret the legal, professional, and ethical responsibilities to protect all students and to maintain safe, caring, and inclusive learning environments.

"I hope that my research will contribute to ongoing discussions about the ways in which publicly-funded Canadian Catholic schools are called upon to respect all aspects of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial human rights legislation, including equality rights provisions that may challenge particular religious edicts. This is a conversation that has only just begun and one for which Canada is more than ready."

On January 29, Callaghan discussed her research in a public lecture.  "Holy Homophobia!" was part of the faculty's Engaging New Ideas in Education speaker program, a free series presenting current issues in education and educational policy.