Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mississauga Ontario French Catholic High School Bans Harvey Milk Quotes From Gay-Straight Alliance Posters Because They Are "Tendentious," Students And Faculty Walkout From Washington State's Eastman Catholic High After Popular Vice-Principal Fired For Marrying Male Partner Last July, Lockheed Martin Ends Donations To Boy Scouts Of America Over Organization's Continued Ban Of Gay Leaders

In suburban Toronto, a gay high school student feels that his Mississauga French Catholic school is trying to silence him after posters featuring a Harvey Milk quote were rejected. The words from Milk (the openly gay San Francisco city supervisor assassinated in 1978) — “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential” — were not allowed on posters student Christopher Karas wanted to put up for a gay-straight alliance group in November. According to Karas, the vice-principal at École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Famille asked that “sexual orientation” be changed to “self expression” to be inclusive of non-LGBT students. According to the Toronto Star, in an e-mail, vice-principal Vicki Marcotte, the teacher representative for the group, told Karas she wouldn’t print the posters because the Milk quote was “tendentious.” She has also said that other students leading the group disagreed with including it. Karas, who is gay, defiantly put the posters up anyway. They were ripped down the next day, he said. He has now gone public with his story because, he claims, the school is trying to rid the little group of anything queer. “The school board has been doing everything they can to oppress my group,” he said. The group is not officially called a gay-straight alliance, but is known as Porte Ouvertes, or Open Doors. Students chose the name to be inclusive of all 20 members, only a few of whom 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, the group’s only publicly out member. Karas pushed to create the group in the wake of Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, which made it illegal for schools to reject applications for gay-straight alliances. Karas made a bid for a Bill 13 group in March 2013. The first meeting was held in September. Since then about 20 students have met once a month to discuss sexuality along with everyday teen issues — parents, dating, stress and depression. “The group isn’t only to talk about gays, but it’s also the problems people have going on through school, with family,” said Davina Smith, another student founder of the group. Marcotte, as teacher rep, has a say in the group’s functioning and listens as students discuss their personal issues, including sexuality. “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,” Karas said. The decision to reject the Milk posters came from the students who lead the group. They did not all agree on using the Milk quote because it singled out an LGBT leader, which may not be inclusive to everyone in the group, Karas said. When Karas went to Marcotte about the issue, she said she didn’t want to print the poster because the quote was “tendentious” and the group wanted something more open. Marcotte declined an interview with the Star when reached at the school Tuesday. However, she has told Xtra’s Andrea Houston that the decision to block the posters came from the group’s student leaders. “The posters he submitted weren’t open enough for everybody,” Marcotte told Xtra. “There’s five students. It’s not just Christopher . . . everybody has a vote. They decided it wasn’t inclusive enough of everybody.” With his own graduation just six months away, Karas is worried the group could fall apart once he heads to higher education. “I asked to have democratic elections within the group to create positions of power so the group members could carry on the group every year, and that was turned down. The idea wasn’t even discussed. They said no, we can’t do that,” he said. The school board issued a statement Tuesday calling the Milk poster debacle a “misunderstanding," Mikale-Andrée Joly, a spokesperson for the Catholic Central South District School Board saying, “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." She added that the board is aware of its role under the Accepting Schools Act, which requires all Ontario schools — public or Catholic — to allow GSAs. But the school board’s statement hasn’t changed much for Karas. He is now considering legal action and plans to file a human rights complaint against the school, which he feels has tried to shut him up ever since his group started in September. “They think their religion is more important than my human rights and other students’ human rights,” Karas said. It’s a battle with which Jeremy Dias is all too familiar. Nearly 10 years ago Dias won a lawsuit against his Sault Ste.-Marie, Ontario, high school, where students and administrators were found to have discriminated against him after he came out. “Chris is literally doing what I did a decade ago,” said Dias, 30. Dias used the money he earned in the lawsuit to start Jer’s Vision, a charity that fights systemic homophobia in schools. Dias is now working with Karas to start a training program to teach 100 LGBT students how to start their own GSAs. The week-long training program is expected to be held next May. Even precocious leaders like Karas may not know much about the AIDS movement or the exclusion of queer women from the LGBT community, Dias said, which is why training is necessary. “The only answer is an investment in training and education,” he said. Still, Dias said, it was “sad” that students like Karas are the ones fighting to start the GSAs rather than teachers and administrators. “You have this student who wants his school to be safer, and instead of being encouraged … he’s being bullied and put down by his educators, and that’s shameful,” Dias said. “Most people get fired from their job for that.”

In Washington State, Students and faculty at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish were protesting Thursday morning after learning their popular vice principal was asked to resign after school officials learned he had married his male partner. The Seattle Times reports that Mark Zmuda married Dana Jergens at a ceremony at the Golf Club at Newcastle last July — seven months after same sex marriage became legal in the state. One student said the entire student body was protesting, many of them crying along with their teachers. One student questioned the decision given Pope Francis’ recent statements regarding homosexuality. Mike Patterson, spokesperson for Eastside, said that by getting married, Zmuda violated teachings of the church, which he had agreed to follow. Teachers at Catholic schools, Patterson said, sign contracts that they will abide by the doctrine of the Catholic Church, which opposes and forbids same sex marriage. “We just learned about it,” Patterson said of Zmuda’s marriage. “He understood he could no longer be employed there because of his current circumstances.” Before joining Eastside Catholic, Zmuda taught at Cardinal Gibbons School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, according to an online biography. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Defense and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin is halting its donations to the Boy Scouts of America over the organization's ban on gays serving as adult leaders after a review of the company's philanthropy guidelines, the company said Thursday. Lockheed Martin spokesperson Gordon Johndroe said the company decided it will not support nonprofit organizations that do not align with its corporate policies or commitment to diversity. The company did not disclose how much it has contributed to the Boy Scouts. Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed follows UPS Inc., Merck & Co. and computer-chip maker Intel in withdrawing support for the Boy Scouts over its no-gays policy in the past two years. In a written statement, Johndroe said Lockheed seeks to support nonprofit groups that value diversity. "We believe engaging with and funding an organization that openly discriminates is in conflict with our policies," he said. "While we applaud the mission of the Boy Scouts and the good things they do in our communities, their policies that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and religious affiliation conflict with Lockheed Martin policies." This year, the Irving, Texas-based Boy Scouts revised its policy to allow gay boys to participate in Scouting, but it maintained the ban on gay leaders. The change drew criticism from both sides of the debate over the anti-gay policy. Johndroe said Lockheed Martin was pleased to see the Boy Scouts revise its membership policy but opposes the continued ban on gay leadership. The company's review of its philanthropy came at the end of the year as it reevaluates priorities for 2014, he said. "We're taking a close look at all nonprofit organizations we support to ensure they align with our company's core values," Johndroe said. Deron Smith, a spokesperson for the Boy Scouts, said Lockheed Martin was not a national sponsor but has had a positive impact by supporting Scouting in local communities. "We respect the company's right to express its own opinion and appreciate its recognition that Scouting is a valuable organization," he said in an e-mail. "Scouting believes that good people can personally disagree on this topic and still work together to accomplish the common good." The decision from Lockheed was first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In October, the Boy Scouts of America announced that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates will serve as its next president to lead its national executive board for two years. Gates was an Eagle Scout. As defense secretary under President Barack Obama, Gates helped change the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy banning openly gay soldiers. He also served under President George W. Bush. Gay-rights groups have praised the appointment of Gates and called on him to push the organization to end discrimination against gay adults.

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