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Are Your Family’s Religious Values Harming Your Children?


Michael Ungar, Ph.D. | Psychology Today

Finally, some reasonableness has returned to the legislature in Alberta, Canada. The government has finally backtracked on a controversial plan to support schools that wanted to refuse students the right to organize gay-straight alliances. Private religious schools, and many schools in small ‘c’ conservative communities were seeking the right to say no to students who wanted to start clubs which would offer gender-variant young people (an awful term for kids that self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and a rainbow of other sexual identities) with a safe place to hang out with peers. Now keep in mind, I’m not talking about Russia or Uganda. I’m talking about a province in Canada, a country where gay marriage is legal and tolerance is a bred-in-the-bone personality trait. How this even became a matter for debate is beyond me.

I wish such clubs were an anachronism and that we didn’t need them, but there are still many children who experience bullying because of their sexual orientation. There is plenty of evidence, such as a study by Russell Toomey at Kent State University and his colleagues, that shows that gay-straight alliances improve children’s mental health, especially in situations where they experience harassment from their peers. Rates of suicide are much higher among gender-variant young people in contexts like that and their exposure to bullying far greater than their heterosexual peers. I think we can agree that when it comes to sexual orientation and kids, it’s better to do anything we can to create more inclusive and tolerant communities for them to grow up in.

I find it interesting, though, that this debate about banning gay-straight alliances in religious and public schools is happening alongside other conversations about the place of religious values in civic institutions. Ironically, many of the same people who oppose these groups in their children’s schools are also vocal opponents of allowing religion to creep into public ceremonies like the oath of citizenship. For example, when Zunera Ishaq, a Muslim woman seeking Canadian citizenship, requested that she be allowed to take the oath with her face mostly covered by her niqab, the federal government (supported by its conservative base) insisted that Ishaq must show her face during the ceremony. It’s remarkable to me that in the same communities banning gay-straight alliances, afternoon talk shows received calls reminding us that Canadians value the separation of church and state, and that women’s rights must be respected. Callers argued that if women want to pledge allegiance to a country wearing a veil, there are many countries where they can do just that and live with all the other barriers to participation that come with Sharia Law.


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