Canadian high school student prohibited from hanging posters with Harvey Milk quote on campus

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An openly gay high school student attending a French Catholic high school in Mississauga, a Canadian city in Ontario, is not being permitted to hang posters featuring a quote from gay rights advocate Harvey Milk.

Christopher Karas, a member of the École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Famille’s version of a Gay-Straight Alliance, known as Porte Ouvertes (Open Doors), was told by the school’s vice principal that the Milk quote was “tendentious.”

The quote reads, “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”

Vice principal Vicki Marcotte, who is also the faculty representative for the group, requested that Karas amend the quote by changing “sexual orientation” to “self expression,” on the basis that this language would be more inclusive to members of the group who did not identify as LGBT, according to The Record.

In an email correspondence Marcotte told Karas that she would not print the posters in their original form, adding that other members of the group also agreed with the decision.

Karas, ignoring the vice principal’s ban of the poster, put up the Milk quote around the school anyway. They were immediately torn down the next day, Karas reported.

“The school board has been doing everything they can to oppress my group,” Karas said. Although Open Doors, which consists of twenty members, is not technically a GSA, it is an open group which stands as a safe space for students. Only a few of the group members identify as queer.

“Some still aren’t out to their family and friends. It’s really about creating a safe space at school for everyone,” said Karas, who is the only openly gay student in the group.

Karas started the group under the protection of Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, which requires schools to allow Gay-Straight Alliances.

The group had its first meeting in September; students meet on a monthly basis to discuss sexuality, among other trials and tribulations of high school life such as family, friends, health, and stress.

“The group isn’t only to talk about gays, but…also the problems people have going on through school, with family,” said Davina Smith, also a founder of the group.

Karas expressed that he doesn’t feel comfortable having a teacher sitting in on their meetings, as the threat of suspension can cause tension for the dynamic of the group.

“I don’t feel comfortable having a teacher sitting in on our conversation. I might like to have a social worker sit in, but I don’t want a school administrator who has the power to put some of us in suspensions,” said Karas.

Based on an interview Marcotte had with Xtra, the decision to veto the Milk poster came from the students in the group.

“The posters he submitted weren’t open enough for everybody,” Marcotte said in an interview with Xtra. “There’s five students. It’s not just Christopher…everybody has a vote. They decided it wasn’t inclusive enough of everybody.”

On December 17, the school board referred to the Milk incident as a “misunderstanding.”

“If the members of the Portes Ouvertes committee agree on a promotional design that includes a Harvey Milk quote, then…the CSDCCS will not interfere in it being published and displayed in the school,” said a spokesperson for the Catholic Central South District School Board, Mikale-Andrée Joly.

However, Karas is displeased with the school’s reaction, blaming the school’s religious beliefs as the reasoning behind their decision.

“They think their religion is more important than my human rights and other students’ human rights,” Karas said.

Karas is now considering filing for a human rights complaint against the school, as he feels that its reaction is silencing him.

In 2003, a court decision made Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to enact marriage equality.

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