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Mississauga Catholic students demand GSA


Mississauga Catholic students demand GSA

From left: Taechun Menns, 16, and Leanne Iskander, 16, are trying to start a GSA at St Joseph's Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga. IMAGE 1 OF 1
Told supports already exist, such as group that 'cures' gayness
The inaugural meeting of the St Joe’s gay-straight alliance (GSA) takes place with very little fanfare in the Square One food court in Mississauga on March 16.

The three soft-spoken teenagers present are part of a group of 32 students trying to start a GSA at St Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga. The group’s founder, Leanne Iskander, 16, recently asked principal Frances Jacques to recognize their newly formed GSA as an official school club. Jacques flatly refused.

Now the students are taking matters into their own hands.

Iskander was told, “There’s already supports in place at the school, such as guidance counsellors. Also, a GSA is premature for your age.”

“We’re not going to give up,” Iskander tells Xtra. “We’re going to keep trying to get a GSA. This is very important. Gay kids feel alienated and need a place with a sense of community.”

If the students are successful, St Joe’s will be the first GSA in any Catholic school anywhere in the province. Xtra revealed in February that GSAs are forbidden, by decree of the bishops. Catholic school officials told Xtra bishops are the final authority for all policy and curriculum used in the publicly funded Ontario Catholic school system.

Much of the discrimination comes from the Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation, the primary document for instructing school adminstrators and teachers on homosexuality. It reads that "gay" is not an identity, gay sex is “immoral” and gay people ought to live a life of “chastity.”

The St Joe's students say they won't take no for an answer. Iskander created a public Facebook group and wrote a letter to Jacques, reminding her that all students have the right to equality. Iskander argued that rejecting the request for a GSA violates the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board’s Equity and Inclusive Education policy.

“[Jacques] says GSAs are discriminatory to others in the school, that there are already groups like this in the school that provide support, and that the Catholic Church does not support the lifestyle,” Iskander explains. “There really aren’t supports, though.”

Taechun Menns, 16, grins as Iskander speaks, then crinkles up his brow. “I just don’t see why she said no. A GSA is just a support group where kids can go and feel safe without being judged.”

Tegan, 15, who asked to remain anonymous because she’s not out to her family yet, says having a GSA helps fight homophobia at school. “It’s a place to have discussions about your feelings and get advice. I think the principal sees it as pointless.”

Schools across the province are in the middle of March break, so Jacques could not be reached for comment at the school. Xtra was also unable to contact the principal at home before post time.

There are about seven teachers who have thrown their support behind the students, Iskander says. Some group members haven’t yet come out to their families and friends, while others are fearful of anti-gay backlash at the school, which has a student population of about 1,650.

Asked if other students are supportive, Iskander shrugs. “Some say that a GSA isn’t right on religious grounds. They suggested we call the group something else.”

But both Iskander and Menns say it’s very important that the word "gay" be in the group’s title. “I want it to be recognized for what it is. I don’t want it to be called a diversity club.”

GSAs started making headlines in January when Xtra reported a ban on the student clubs by the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB). When questioned, board chair Alice Anne LeMay 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.”

In the face of national outrage, the HCDSB lifted the ban on GSAs, but it still does not allow any student group with the word “gay” in its title. Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky has so far not returned any of Xtra’s interview requests.

A teacher at St Joe’s, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his job, says Jacques said at a staff meeting on March 7 that “GSAs are in conflict with Catholic views on chastity.” Not one staff member questioned her, he says.

Jacques told the staff that a student looking to start a GSA had approached her. She asked if the student was being bullied. "No, not really," the student told her.

“There's more than one way to be bullied. You don't have to have your head bashed in,” the teacher tells Xtra.

Jacques advised staff to “not make any commitments” if they were approached by students to support the GSA.

“She was insinuating the kids are confused and it might just be a phase,” the teacher tells Xtra. “Then she handed out pamphlets to Courage International,” which, according to the group's Wikipedia page, “ministers to those with same-sex attractions" and counsels gay people “to abstain from acting on their sexual desires and to live chastely according to the Catholic Church's teachings.”

Courage International also uses the 12-step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous to try to “cure” gays.

“That’s her idea of offering support,” the teacher says. “It’s unbelievable. This pamphlet is also in the guidance offices for students.

“I can’t believe this is a publicly funded system and they are getting away with this.”

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of the equality program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, applauds the students' courage and throws her support behind their bid for a GSA.

“Students have the right to freedom of expression, they have the right to freedom of association, and they have the right to equality,” she says. “To block them from forming a gay-straight alliance is not acceptable and it’s not constitutional.”

Schools that lack supports can have a devastating effect on the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans youth, Mendelsohn Aviv says. “There’s no reason these kids can’t form a gay-straight alliance.”

Politicians silent on students' GSA bid

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It's Mainly the Hierarchy that's to Blame
Remember that principals, teachers, administrators and students have LGBTI family members. Apart from some right wing members of the above mentioned and parents (many evangelicals sent their kids to Catholic schools), the majority would be accepting of Gay/Straight Alliance. However, all teachers/principals are bound by the teaching of the Catholic Church.
One school system for all - just like the workplace where people learn to exist together on laws to protect them.

Need young folks need to emphasize the sexuality part as an indication of what such alliance is all about, when in fact it isn't about sex at all?
What about all other sexual orientations or preferences? Are they excluded? No, of course not, because it isn't about sexuality nor orientation nor preferences; it is about inclusiveness of all regardless of sexuality/orientation/preferences.
So, simply, and functionally, and an alliance that is All-Inclusive-Alliance; so all are welcome, and none excluded. No one can be refused based on anything except they be legit registered students for that alliance in that school.
If one take on this All-Inclusive-Alliance, also as a namesake, then it will demonstrate a vision that is mature for its members that is beyond expectations of 'old' generations not so forward thinking.
Over time everyone everywhere will understand the full meaning of the AIA such that even a GSA would be a mere subset component of the AIA's more encompassing purpose... the inclusion of all, and exclusion of none:
Bi-Gay-Lesbian-Straight (preferences)
Female-Male-AGender-Queer (Gender Expression)
Male-Female-Neutrois (Gender Identity)
... and anything else you can think of.
And within AIA, they can have whatever activities or projects/drives themed on preferences/expression/identity if need be, thus the body of that Alliance will already be in place, but what it does within it be decided amongst members for whatever reasons that would not be forbidden in any other world after graduation. In other words, the youth are behaving maturely, which is important to encourage, not curb.
Such an AIA type of group in schools could then be in any school system be it separate or public, and understood that its vision is forward thinking as what younger generations should do, as they are the future. Best start early than late, or too late.
Or would one really prefer a name more obscure and less explicit: Glee Club?
mary @ 03/20/11
"beat the "bishop and principal" and better include the greater community if you take time to use a term beside gay/straight"
I'm with you there mary. I suggest 'The Scholastic Sodomite Sapphic Breeder Alliance of Mississauga'
But What if....?
But why not another name? Unless one is gay or straight does that mean one is not welcome or represented in the discussions?

What is a student is a cross dresser, or bi gender or bisexual or has an intersex condition or was born with transsexualism or is queer or butch etc?

I think it's fine and I support the gay students in their fight o have a group in their school where they feel safe, but what of the others within the greater rainbow who are not gay? Or those who might be but after other labels?

I can remember a number of years working with a few youth who felt as if they did not belong at the area drop in for gay youth(before it moved to it's home at Square One)

This being because they were not gay but everything there, discussions etc, was about being gay. They just didn't feel welcome, or like they belonged. Yet they had each felt and lived with bulling in their respective schools.

It just seems to me you can beat the "bishop and principal" and better include the greater community if you take time to use a term beside gay/straight. And with more people you have a stronger base.
O, Really?
(Oops: My previous title should have been: "Congratulations, Teuchen and Leanne!")

"O, Mississauga": You're actually wondering why a Catholic school teacher who supports these teens must remain anonymous? It might have something to do with the fact that this compassionate, kind-hearted person would be out of a job by morning otherwise. Surprised? Please. Here's the question you should be asking: Why is the public forced to fully fund such a blatantly discriminatory school system? If the Bishops wish to start a hard-core Catholic, anti-gay, anti-condom, funny-hats-only school board, then they are free to do so--but they must fund it themselves. (Mel Gibson and his dad will volunteer to run the bake sales.)
O, Really?
Teuchen and Leanne, congratulations! You're braver and more wonderful than most people will ever get to be! Fight the good fight! I think we're on the verge of making history, and you're helping write it! We need more Rosa Parks's like you!
tell the school board
Let the Mississauga School Board and the Minister of Education know how you feel. When Halton banned gay-straight groups members of my church started going to all of their school board meetings to support gblt rights. Our minister wore her dog collar and a rainbow stole. The Catholic Church's position is abusive to gays, straights, tax payers, the human rights code, and people of faith.
Gay-straight groups aren't sex clubs or orgy groups; the fact that the Catholic church believes that gay-straight groups are necessarily anti-celibacy says more about the Church than it says about gay-staight alliances. Gay-straight alliances are discussion and support groups that allow for respect and understanding of oneself and one another. It allows people to find common ground and appreciate, rather than fear, differences. Perhaps the Catholic Bishops should form one for themselves.
There is a provincial election coming in October. We must be vocal and demand that whoever wants to govern must stop public funding of a homophobic Catholic school board.
Of course I support gay teens, but I have to ask, why is this anonymous teacher working for the Catholic board if he is so dissastified with the workplace? Rather than slander his principal and colleagues, perhaps "anonymous" should seek employment elsewhere. Also, this is irresponsible journalism. A comment from the principal would have made the article more balanced.
Time to move out of the dark ages
As a gay man who delbt with being gay in teh 1970's I always felt that so many strides have been made by todays queer youth and to see how the catholic church and it's (publicly funded) school system continues to legitimize homophobia and comparing it with a Nazi group which is a hate organization filles me with such disgust. All I can say is shame on the system and tou the queer youth and in particular thsi young woman keep fighting the good fight.


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