Canada: Student appears at Human Rights Tribunal over Catholic school homophobia

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Christopher Karas says the school blocked his efforts to create a school society to support LGBT students.

The former student says he faced four years of homophobic discrimination by  École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Famille in Ontario. It began when he attempted to set up an “Open Doors” society – not technically a gay-straight alliance, but a society that welcomed and supported LGBT students.

Under Ontario’s Accepting Schools Act, all publicly funded schools must allow such societies. The Act was passed in 2012, and Mr Karas applied to set up his society shortly afterwards. He says the application was delayed when one official expressed concerns that it did not reflect “Catholic values”.

He then says officials objected to posters for the group which displayed a quote from gay activist Harvey Milk: “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” The school reportedly took exception to the wording, saying it wasn’t inclusive enough.

Mr Karas told the National Post: “I don’t actually understand what’s so controversial about those posters because our sexual orientation, we all have one.”

He is seeking an apology from the school, as well as $25,000 in compensation and a promise to ensure sensitivity training among school staff and a gender neutral toilet at the school.

The school said in a statement: “[We] welcome and respect students of every sexual orientation. This was in no way a case of censorship.

“No member of the staff of the ESCSF used discriminatory or homophobic language in the classroom. Quite the contrary, the staff did everything possible to offer the student its support and to intervene in cases of discriminatory language or conduct on the part of the other students.”

In December a Canadian Catholic school banned students from doing a project on gay rights, but then overturned its ban.