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Mississauga high school bans gay-straight alliance

Taechun Menns, 16, left, and Leanne Iskander, 16, right, are trying to start a GSA at St Joseph's Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga.

Andrea Houston / Xtra photo/Andrea Houston / Xtra photo

Fresh on the heels of a neighbouring GTA school board's decision to ban gay-straight alliances, a group of Mississauga teens were also barred from launching a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at their Catholic high school.

The group's founder, 16-year-old Leanne Iskander, approached St. Joseph's Catholic Secondary School principal Frances Jacques to start a gay-straight alliance recently and was flatly turned down, Xtra! reported Thursday.

The gay and lesbian newspaper reported that Ms. Iskander was told, "There's already supports in place at the school, such as guidance counsellors. Also, a GSA is premature for your age."

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However, Bruce Campbell, spokesman for Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board told The Globe and Mail Thursday that "the principal did not say that students could not meet for discussion, but rather asked her [Ms. Iskander]to work within the many structures in place to meet their needs."

It's a decision that Mr. Campbell said "the board wholeheartedly supports."

It's an approach that brings Catholic Church doctrine more and more into conflict with the new equity and inclusion policy of Ontario's Ministry of Education, which says GSAs should be allowed to form.

So far, individual school boards have been allowed to amend the policy as they see fit, so long as alternative forms of support are offered. The Catholic boards contend broader groups that support student spirit are suitable alternatives.

In neighbouring Halton Catholic District School Board, chairwoman Alice LeMay came under fire recently when she told Xtra! the board "doesn't allow Nazi groups either. Gay-straight alliances are banned because they are not within the teachings of the Catholic Church." Public outrage forced the HCDSB to lift the ban on GSAs, but it still does not allow any student group with the word "gay" in its title.

Mr. Campbell said the St. Joseph's principal offered to help the 30 interested students by arranging discussions with the school's chaplain and social worker, and suggested they join other equity groups already existing in the school or refer to Courage Toronto, an Archdiocese-supported organization that supports young people with same-sex orientation.

"The student indicated that she was not interested in faith-based resources," Mr. Campbell said. "The principal indicated that, as a Catholic school, however, it is from a faith-based perspective that we would approach discussions if this is to move forward, just as a faith perspective is part of any club or activity at a Catholic school."

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In defiance of the school's decision, Ms. Iskander has launched a Facebook group called St. Joes Gay-Straight Alliance.

Posted on the webpage is a letter sent by Ms. Iskander to the school principal, in which she writes, "I would like to make it clear that groups such as these do not in any way impose upon the religious freedom or denominational rights of the Catholic School Board."

John Martin Tabilin, 18, is an openly gay student at St. Joseph's Secondary School. He is part of a group of about 30 students who support starting a GSA at the school.

"It think it's kind of pointless [banning GSAs]because the religion may not support us [gay and lesbian youth] but we're part of the school community and they should be creating a more safe environment for us," Mr. Tabilin said. "For me personally, I've experienced a lot of homophobia, like, I've been bullied. They don't bully physically but they give you stares, they use discriminatory words, like they call you 'fag.'"

Ms. Iskander said the group's next move will be to call the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

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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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