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June 07, 2011
A Catholic high school in Mississauga, Canada, took a strange tack in curtailing the activities of its "unofficial" gay-straight alliance: it banned rainbows from a student-run anti-homophobia event. The students got around the ban by baking cupcakes and dyeing them different colors to form a rainbow. They then sold the cupcakes and raised more than $200 for charity. But the school then informed them that they could not donate the money to any LGBT-related organization. Instead, they were told to donate to a Catholic homeless shelter.
The students, understandably, are outraged. And the whole episode is part of a peculiar effort for Catholic schools to navigate students' desire to support gay rights, despite the Vatican's stance on homosexuality. Students were not allowed to form gay-straight alliances, but they were permitted to form groups to combat homophobia or bullying. And they were allowed to have a booth against homophobia during the school's social justice week, but not to display a rainbow flag. This, school officials said, would "lead to activism." The students were also not permitted to display materials about trans health, sexual orientation and gender identity, or AIDS.
"We proposed a whole bunch of resources and only about four got approved, and the ones that were approved were censored," said Leanne Iskander, the founder of the unofficial GSA. "They wouldn’t let us have this one booklet because it had one or two sentences on safe sex."
"The Catholic board gave the students a carrot to try to silence them when they announced the anti-bullying clubs. But it’s not enough and it’s not meeting the needs of youth," explained one Canadian gay rights activist who has advised the students. "The students recognize that and they are fighting for what they want."
The students are planning to march in a Pride Parade, despite the fact that they are not allowed to mention the school's name. During the parade, they will give out buttons encouraging support for gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools.
"Marching in Pride is important to us because it will allow us to advocate for GSAs in Catholic Schools to a large audience," explained Iskander. "Handing out buttons will be an excellent way to spread the message that GSAs are needed in Catholic schools."
The spokesman for the school's board, Bruce Campbell, had some unconvincing excuses for the board's decisions. He said that the rainbow was banned, not because the board has anything against rainbows, but because an "in-house logo" had already been designed. For a later event, he said that putting up a rainbow flag "certainly wouldn’t be outside the realm that is something acceptable to ask." Although who knows what kind of event outside his control - like the "logo" - would stand in the way when that day rolled around.
It's inspiring to see students like Iskander fighting for the right to advocate for social justice in their schools, even when they're up against an institution as powerful and complex as the Catholic Church. But, as Anna North points out on Jezebel, all of these actions are making Iskaner's school look pretty desperate. After all, as she writes, "When you have to start banning rainbows to keep kids from speaking up for what they believe in, it might be time to just listen."
Catholic School Bans Rainbows at Pro-LGBT Event