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Catholic school board bars lesbian comedian from performing in Toronto

Comedian Dawn Whitwell in Toronto on June 8, 2011.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

A Toronto-based comedian says she was blocked from performing at a Catholic school after board officials learned she was married to a woman.

The comedian, Dawn Whitwell, said that in late May she was invited by a teacher to be part of an anti-homophobia event taking place Tuesday at Bishop Marrocco-Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School. She said late last week the teacher told her not to come.

"I was told the board didn't approve of my marriage," Ms. Whitwell said.

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Emmy Szekeres Milne, a spokeswoman for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said that event was meant to be anti-bullying, not anti-homophobia, that they'd only considered Ms. Whitwell as a possible speaker, and that they ultimately became concerned that she might make light of the bullying issue.

"The decision was strictly based on the fact that she was a comedienne and they really felt that it wasn't a good fit," Ms. Szekeres Milne said.

Anti-homophobia groups have struggled to find a place in Catholic schools following an anti-bullying policy introduced by Ontario's Ministry of Education suggested they form gay-straight alliances. The new policy has put Catholic school boards in an awkward spot between the taxpayers who fund them and the Catholic bishops who advise them.

Halton's Catholic board won international notoriety in January after it banned gay-straight alliances, and a group of teens at a Catholic school in Mississauga have been fighting for months to have their own gay-straight alliance recognized.

"They [Catholic schools]just can't move forward," Ms. Whitwell said. "My bigger concern is that this amounts to provincially-funded bullying.

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About the Author
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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