Trinity Western loses Supreme Court case on religious freedom v. LGBTQ+ rights

U of T campus group LGBTOUT acted as intervenors on case

Trinity Western loses Supreme Court case on religious freedom v. LGBTQ+ rights

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled against Trinity Western University (TWU) in a case that pits religious freedom against LGBTQ+ rights. TWU is a BC-based evangelical Christian university with a satellite campus in Ontario that was denied accreditation for a proposed law school by the law societies of BC and Ontario on the grounds that TWU discriminates against LGBTQ+ people. On June 15, the Supreme Court ruled 72 in favour of the law societies.

The case arose over a covenant agreement that all TWU students have to sign, which binds them to a code of conduct that specifically requires students to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

“The community covenant is a solemn pledge in which members place themselves under obligations on the part of the institution to its members, the members to the institution, and the members to one another,” reads Section One of the agreement on the school’s website.

“TWU reserves the right to question, challenge or discipline any member in response to actions that impact personal or social welfare.”

As a result of the university’s community covenant agreement, concerns about the personal safety and open access of LGBTQ+ students were raised by various groups, including U of T campus group Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT).

On November 30, 2017, a two-day hearing for the case was held by the Supreme Court against the university. LGBTOUT, which is the longest-standing LGBTQ+ group in Canada, travelled to the Supreme Court to act as an intervenor on the case, arguing that the law school “would harm prospective LGBTQ+ students, who would be effectively barred from TWU just because of their sexual or gender orientation.”

An intervenor on a Supreme Court case is meant to provide perspective to the matter and may be brought in at the discretion of the court.

In a statement released on the group’s Facebook page, LGBTOUT called the ruling “fantastic news.”

“There is no place for LGBTQ+ discrimination in the legal profession or in Canadian society. LGBTOUT is thrilled with this news and victory for our community, especially as it comes during Pride Month!”

Judges Suzanne Côté and Russell Brown were the only judges that sided with TWU, arguing that judicial intervention should be more limited when it comes to approving law programs.

“While, therefore, the [Law Society of BC] has purported to act in the cause of ensuring equal access to the profession, it has effectively denied that access to a segment of Canadian society, solely on religious grounds. In our respectful view, this unfortunate state of affairs merits judicial intervention, not affirmation.”

This is not the first time TWU has faced the Supreme Court over grounds of religious freedom. In 2001, the British Columbia College of Teachers refused to accredit their teacher training programs due to the discriminatory nature of the community covenant.

After the court’s ruling, it is uncertain whether TWU will continue its plans for its proposed law school as the Law Societies of British Columbia and Ontario refuse to accredit their law degrees.

LGBTOUT to intervene in Supreme Court case

Campus group heads to Ottawa for case concerning discrimination, religious freedom

LGBTOUT to intervene in Supreme Court case

Campus group Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) is headed to the Supreme Court of Canada on November 30 to act as an intervenor on a court case involving Trinity Western University.

The university’s law school was denied accreditation from the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Law Society in British Columbia, which cited discrimination due to the school’s policy requiring students to sign a covenant forbidding homosexual acts. Trinity Western subsequently appealed the decisions; the BC law society’s decision to refuse accreditation was overruled by the BC court of appeals, but the Ontario Court of Appeals upheld the Law Society of Upper Canada’s decision. As a result, the case will now go before the Supreme Court of Canada.

LGBTOUT was approached by lawyers involved in the case to ask them to act as intervenors. An intervenor on a Supreme Court case is meant to provide perspective that the two parties involved do not bring to the case. In this instance, LGBTOUT was deemed to help bring the perspective of LGBTQ+ students.

LGBTOUT is the longest-standing student LGBTQ+ group in Canada. “We are an LGBT student group, so we’re hoping that our arguments that we make show that LGBT students’ voices are being represented,” said Gaby Garcia-Casanova, the group’s Public Relations Director.

Richard Moon, a law professor at the University of Windsor who specializes in religious law, argues that, if there are a limited number of potential law school positions in Canada and a whole law school’s worth of positions are available under the condition where they would be required to sign the covenant, then there may be a basis for discrimination.

The most relevant precedent to this case was Trinity Western’s teaching school. The British Columbia College of Teachers refused to accredit the teacher training programs on the same basis as the Law Society of Upper Canada — that the covenant was discriminatory. In this earlier case, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the university.

Moon believes that Trinity Western will base a large portion of their argument on this earlier ruling.

For its application, LGBTOUT was required to compile all of its arguments into a factum that they submitted to the Supreme Court in the form of an application.

Initially, its request to leave to intervene was denied. Chief Justice Wagner overturned the decision and released a statement explaining that it had come to the decision that its perspective should be included in the hearing.

The hearing, scheduled to be held from November 30 to December 1, will determine whether Trinity Western has the freedom to receive accreditation with the covenant in place or if the Law Society of Upper Canada is correct in its claim that the policy is discriminatory.

 

U of T, Toronto stand with Orlando

Hundreds gather to commemorate Pulse nightclub shooting victims

U of T, Toronto stand with Orlando

Pride Month celebrations were interrupted in the wake of the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida at the Pulse nightclub. A gunman opened fire on the crowd; 49 people were killed and 53 were injured.

Several commemorative ceremonies took place in Toronto, including three at the University of Toronto. U of T’s Sexual & Gender Diversity Office organized a commemoration at Hart House Circle, while the Equity and Diversity Office hosted a memorial at UTSC’s The Meeting Place.

LGBTOUT and the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS) held a vigil at King’s College Circle, where Julian Oliveira, member of LGBTOUT and organizer for the vigil, expressed his feelings about the tragedy: “The club was populated by queer and trans and Latinx performers and community members who stand with the queer and racialized communities in Orlando. We are suffering this loss together.”

Oliveira continued, “The answer to queerphobia is not Islamaphobia. We should not allow people to skew our knowledge of the facts, of what is right, and we must not let ourselves be tricked. We must stand together with other oppressed communities, for we are all fighting for equality, we are all fighting for love.”

The names of each of the victims were read out loud and the microphone was offered to anyone who wished to address the crowd. Several people expressed grief and praised the community’s support. A canvas was laid out and the audience was encouraged to leave messages.

A Toronto-wide vigil was held at Barbara Hall Park the night after the shooting. Several local leaders and politicians were present to address the hundreds of attendees.

“This doesn’t represent the sentiment or the actions of any faith,” Mayor of Toronto John Tory told The Varsity. “It doesn’t represent anybody except very deranged, clearly deranged persons and we’ll learn more about it in the days to come. But here, look around us tonight and there are people that can tell you how Toronto deals with these things, which is to stand in solidarity with each other.”

Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam also addressed the crowd.

“Our social miracle as we know it in Toronto, in Ontario, in Canada can never be taken for granted,” Wong-Tam said. “And we have to let the people of the Americas know that we stand with them and that violence cannot be tolerated. And we will only ever respond to that type of violence with more love.”

Representatives from the LGBTQ community stressed the importance of community, while all shared a similar message of tolerance and understanding.

El-Farouk Khaki, community leader and Muslim-Queer activist, reminded the crowd of the involvement that the Queer-Muslim community has in Toronto.

“I come speaking for the Toronto Unity Mosque, for Universalists Muslims, and for the Salaam Queer-Muslim community: we don’t stand with you, we are you,” said Khaki. “So I stand with you as your brother, as your sibling in humanity, and I am given hope by the joy and by the unity. Unity is not sameness, but it is the celebration of our differences and our diversity.”

Toronto’s Pride celebrations are expected to continue as planned in the following weeks. “We still have to be vigilant,” said Tory. “We got to make it better, make sure it’s safe this coming month, which it will be.”

 

Op-Ed: Vote yes in the upcoming LGBTOUT referendum

Secure funding will strengthen LGBTQ+ networks

Op-Ed: Vote yes in the upcoming LGBTOUT referendum

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) is an organization of student volunteers dedicated to providing resources and programming for queer and trans students at the University of Toronto. Our primary goals are to promote queer visibility,  create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people, and educate U of T students about LGBTQ+ issues. We work toward these goals by hosting LGBTQ+ networking events, which help foster a sense of community for students who may feel alienated in straight spaces.

Due to the budgeting process of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), our event schedule is usually structured according to when cheques are distributed and how much money is made from ticket sales during our larger events. UTSU funding covers expenses up to half of a club’s operating budget. The limited budget decreases the amount of advocacy-based and community-building events we are able to run, despite this being the main purpose of LGBTOUT’s establishment.

A levy of just $0.25 from each UTSU member, each term, would allow LGBTOUT to overcome these financial barriers and better fulfill our mandate. This, in turn, creates a more equitable and healthy campus for all.

For instance, secure funding means we can host more intersectional events that cater to the diverse LGBTQ+ community. This could take the form of hiring American Sign Language interpreters at educational events or securing accessible event spaces. We would also be able to offer small grants to clubs who take the necessary measures to ensure their events are LGBTQ+ inclusive. Thus, campus would be a more inviting space for queer students; especially those who wish to get involved with other groups outside of queer-centred organizations.

We always talk about improving mental health, and this levy would be a step towards doing that. Improved access to queer friendly spaces, as well as education and advocacy, would help to boost morale and inclusivity for queer students. Furthermore, increased funding means LGBTOUT can better collaborate with queer organizations around Toronto, bringing necessary queer resources from around the city to U of T students.

Strengthening LGBTQ+ presence and networks could be the difference between a queer student feeling like they can reach out for help and feeling hopeless or alone. The LGBTOUT Drop-In Centre is a safe space on campus where we have over 40 amazing volunteers. They act as both a friend for those who need someone to listen, and as a person that can direct students to various resources around campus and in the city. A levy would ensure that LGBTOUT is able to continue providing educational resources, safer sex supplies, and drop-in services, in a way that adapts to the changing needs of our diverse community.

Opportunities to learn about LGBTQ+ advocacy and equity in general exist, but these opportunities are not always accessible. Many LGBTQ+ people, specifically trans people of colour, may face financial barriers in attending opportunities such as these. With secure funding, LGBTOUT looks to offer scholarships and alleviate these financial burdens.

Our organization has tried twice to get a levy in the past, with little success. Last year’s Drop-In Centre director, Cathie Renner, said that “there was more open homophobia on campus in 1999 and 2004… other groups were [advocating for levies], but because it was queer students it was seen as subversive.”

Between March 22 and March 24, show that our campus has moved forward from these attitudes. Please vote yes in the referendum online at utsu.simplyvoting.ca or at polling stations on campus.

Nathan Gibson is LGBTOUT’s Drop-In Centre director.

LGBTOUT seeks historic levy

Queer campus group hopes to improve event accessibility, revamp drop-in space

LGBTOUT seeks historic levy

The University of Toronto’s largest queer group is holding a levy referendum in the hopes of securing an additional 50¢ per student per year, broken up into 25¢ payments per semester.

The levy, if approved, would be paid by members of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) at the St. George campus and would be refundable by the same process as that of other levy groups who collect fees through the UTSU, such as Bike Chain and Downtown Legal Services.

Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) has been operating on campus since 1969. They hope to use the levy to fund events that cater to a more diverse population of the club’s membership and to refurbish its drop-in centre.

“We have a lot of events during the year and most of them in the past few years have been very white men-centred and they’re very party-culture, which we want to get away from,” said Nathan Gibson, LGBTOUT drop-in centre director. Gibson added that they would like to hold education and advocacy events without having to fundraise or charge students to participate.

According to Gibson, the new levy would allow the club to update its space and expand its resources. “Right now it’s sweet, it’s nice but I think it would be helpful to have a bit of money we could spend on that,” he said.

“In acquiring a levy, LGBTOUT would be able to carry out much-needed advocacy work that has fallen by the wayside in past years,” reads part of the preamble to the notice. The notice of referendum also highlights the necessity for safe social spaces, particularly for marginalized groups such as trans people of colour, who experience elevated poverty rates compared to the general community. “[A] levy would make it possible for us to provide necessary subsidies and accommodations for those in need.”

The levy funds would also go towards orientation and events at the start of the year. “Current funding structures do not adequately suport groups that take on long-term projects or provide large-scale projects and events during those critical first week of school,” LGBTOUT argues.

Gibson is hopeful that the levy referendum will pass, but acknowledges the struggles that LGBTOUT has experienced in previous years’.

If the levy passes, this referendum will mark the end of years of trying to obtain per-student funding for LGBTOUT. Between 1999 and 2004, LGBTOUT held four referenda in an effort to become a levied service group. Each time, the referendum failed. In 1999, the group’s campaign was met with violent homophobic backlash that motivated U of T to create an Office of LGBTQ Resources and Programs, a forerunner to the U of T Sexual & Gender Diversity Office.

“I just think it’s a really good step forward, I think it’s a very necessary thing,” Gibson said.

The referendum will run concurrently with the UTSU spring elections. Voting will take place in-person at polling stations and online between March 22 and March 24.