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Recommendation to end gay-straight club ban to go before Catholic board

Paul Marai, photographed in Toronto on Jan. 10, 2011, is a 22-year old gay Halton Catholic School Board Trustee who spoke to The Globe and Mail with his reactions to comments from Alice Ann Lemay, the school board chair, that compare gay/straoight alliance groups in high schools to Nazi groups.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Catholic students are taught to be chaste so all the angst over sexual orientation at the Halton Catholic District School Board is moot, a student trustee told her older colleagues Tuesday.

The trustee, a Grade 11 student named Clarisse Schneider, spoke at the embattled board's first meeting since a ban on gay-straight alliances earned them international notoriety and a rebuff from blogger Perez Hilton. The board then voted to recommend that the ban be lifted and an interim province-recommended policy on student equity and inclusion be put in its place until trustees can draft a new, more Catholic-focused version.

At issue is the Ontario Ministry of Education's new rules that mandate school boards implement policies of student inclusion that allow gay and lesbian students to form clubs and support groups. The Catholic school boards received a letter from the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario raising concerns about the groups because they "imply a self-identification with sexual orientation that is often premature among high school students."

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In a lame duck session in November, shortly after the new board of trustees was elected but before they took office, the old board voted to implement an inclusion policy that excluded gay-straight alliances.

Catholics are taught to be accepting of everyone, homosexuals included, even if they don't condone the act of homosexual sex, Ms. Schneider told the boardroom.

"We as students are asked to be chaste so sexual activity at this point, whether heterosexual or homosexual, should really be moot," she said, prompting members of the audience to erupt into applause.

Tuesday night the vote was 6 to 2 in favour of repealing that ban until a new inclusion policy could be drafted.

"I'm cautiously optimistic, I think we needed to address this issue because it has been doing damage to the reputation of our board," said Paul Marai, a openly gay trustee who was recently elected to the board.

Jane Michael, another new trustee and mother of four, was one of two trustees who voted against repealing the ban.

"I believe that gay-straight alliances necessitate students to self-identify and that's not in the best interest of the students," she said. "It'll be like, 'Hello I'm gay.' "

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Ms. Michael said she has received over 100 e-mails deriding the ban, but that her constituents believe that gay-straight alliances have no place in Catholic schools.

The recommendation to end the ban and develop a new policy will go for a vote before the full board at their meeting next week.

A protest group that is circulating a petition with more than 1,500 signatures opposing the ban plans to attend the meeting.

Sarah Kelly, a student teacher and one of the founding members of the group, said that if the recommendation is accepted she will be interested to see what kind of new policy the trustees draft.

"They're trying to find a way to legalize homophobia funded by public dollars," she said.

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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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