Gay student takes on high school’s Catholic doctrine

Jessenia Feijo 

Humber College Business student Christopher Karas continues to challenge rigid Catholic doctrine.

It’s because he’s gay, and he’s proud of it.

The 19-year-old launched an Ontario Human Rights bid against École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Famille, his Mississauga Catholic school, in March 2013.

The case, in which Karas was prevented from forming a Gay-Straight Alliance at his school, remains before the tribunal, unresolved.

“When I was in high school, I wanted to have a safe space. We didn’t necessarily call it a GSA and a GSA is a Gay-Straight Alliance but now it’s taken on different names,” said Karas.

The group is now known as space Porte Ouverte (Open Doors).

“It would be the most inclusive and open kind of name to actually say the door is always open for you,” said Karas.

As part of the anti-bullying Bill 13 Accepting Schools Act, a student can ask for a safe haven and it must be approved by the administration.

NDP education critic Peter Tabuns, who was on the Bill 13 committee as it moved through Queen’s Park, told Daily Xtra in 2013 that students have the right to put together clubs, call the clubs whatever name they wish, and present the group to the rest of the school however they wish.

That was not the case with Karas with his school board and administration.

Since last March, Karas has been fighting for a GSA once a request for a Bill 13 group was submitted to his school.

It all started with the posters.

“I put up posters of (late U.S. gay activist) Harvey Milk, they were really vivid, really beautiful posters and they had a really awesome quote,” said Karas

Milk’s quote read: “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”

His school administration ordered the posters be taken down, said Karas.

“He (school principal Alain Lalonde) actually said that the reasoning behind all of these barriers and actions that have been placed against me because of my sexual orientation, is because they had a right as Catholics (to enforce religious doctrine) and they had a right to be hateful and I don’t think that’s right,” said Karas.

Karas said as a Catholic he believes one should believe in love, respect and acceptance.

“If that’s not what you’re believing in then I don’t think you’re a Catholic, and I don’t think you’re a human on that level,” said Karas.

The posters were taken down. The school administration declared that the safe space requested was not inclusive, but mainly focused on the LGBTQ community.

But Karas said anyone willing to join was welcome. However, he said it would’ve helped the LGBTQ community in the school, and should have been implemented.

“Every school should have a safe space where students can feel safe and these schools should be safe. Students shouldn’t have all of these negative (stigmas) of LGBTQ community or minorities in the school environment.”

Maureen Carnegie, Humber disabilities consultant with the Student Success and Engagement office and co-chair of the LBGTQ+ Gender and Sexual Diversity Committee at the college, said clearly there are still a lot of people out there who are homophobic or transphobic.

“That’s exactly the reason why there should be safe spaces everywhere and anywhere, particularly at the high school level,” said Carnegie.

While dealing with this case, Karas was involved in many other things in his community. One was the Parlement Jeunesse Francophone de l’Ontario (PJFO) where he met Francesco Caruso.

Like Karas, Caruso, 18, was in the midst of getting a GSA started at his school.

Yet Caruso’s experience at École secondaire catholique régionale de Hawkesbury, a Catholic school in small-town Ontario, was the complete opposite of Karas’.

“My school was actually really, really supportive,” said Caruso. “My principal at the time was totally on board with the idea, she wanted to help out, she helped us through the process of getting it to the school board, and we had a lot of teacher support,” he said. “I didn’t really hear any bad opinions on the part of the administration.”

In terms of Karas’ experience, Caruso said, “from what I heard, the school wasn’t too keen on letting Chris publish positive propaganda for the LGBTQ community. They wanted a safer space but not necessarily implying that queer people went to the school.”

To Carnegie, it’s a problem.

“The school that is involved is a Catholic school. There’s been quite a history with the Catholic school and school board around accepting and supporting GSA’s, it is really kind of disappointing to see that this is an issue at this school,” said Carnegie.

Andre Blais, superintendent of the Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique Centre-Sudboard told Catholic Register it’s not discrimination — it’s Catholic doctrine.

When asked to get their view on the comments made, Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board did not return e-mails or phone calls.

At École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Famille, Mikale-Andrée Joly, Directrice du Service des relations corporatives, refused comment.

“At this present time, the case is before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.  In order for this process to move forward effectively, the Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud will not be making any public statements,” she said in an e-mail.

As Karas continues to follow the case, he is adapting to a brave new world in college.

“There has been a certain aspect in my life that has been truly altered and it’s been a change that hasn’t always been welcomed. I have had a great deal of trouble understanding my place in the world and how I fit in it. I lost a great deal of my straight guy friends from high school and ever since I have came out I have had a great deal of trouble connecting with them and or other straight men,” said Karas

“My life has now become public and I have to learn to be criticized. I will have to understand the boundaries which I’m comfortable with and the boundaries my future partners may have themselves,” Karas said.

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3 Thoughts to “Gay student takes on high school’s Catholic doctrine”

  1. I quit a Chicago public school back in 1953 at the age of 16 because I had “those” tendencies. Being queer(that is what we were called then) was considered taboo at home,in school or the work place and we were technically still considered mentally ill! I moved to San Francisco at the end of the beat era in 1960. By the beginning of the 1970s, I was in the front line of the early gay rights movement. By the mid-70s I counted Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone as friends. I outed myself nationally in the summer of 1977 when I created the ANITA BRYANT’S HUSBAND IS A HOMO SAPIEN! T-shirt and it was featured on the United Press International’s news wires. I played softball in the countries first gay sponsored sports league. Today there are over 50 cities with gay sports leagues. The gay rights movement moved at a very slow pace. I moved back to Chicago at the end of the 80s, and it was great seeing the changes taking place here. I got involved in many segments of the gay communities. A few years ago I was inducted into the Chicago Senior Citizen Hall of Fame for my involvement in many gay and senior rights causes. Last year I was inducted into the National Gay & Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame, and this year received the 2014 Hilda Award for my contributions to our National Pastime-the game of baseball as a fan. A few of my proudest moments were the times I spoke to the students of Chicago’s Walter Payton’s College Prep High School Gay/Straight after school program. Today kids in some public high schools need not quit, just to be themselves. I tip my cap to Christopher Karas for making a difference at his school. Believe me his decision to come out openly is not easy, especially in a religious atmosphere. He needs support from his peers and adults in his hometown. Thanks Chris, you are a mensch… it is a Yiddish word which means A PERSON OF INTEGRITY AND HONOR.

    1. I can’t say I know what it means to be a person of integrity and honor. I want to thank you for this outspoken and passionate letter of support. I’m not sure I will ever be able to thank you enough. Many of the letters I receive can’t simply be shared because of the dangers associated with being an out member of the LGBTQ* community. I often try to speak for them when they aren’t heard. I hope one day I can see myself as much of a person of integrity and honor as you have shown to be. I’m sure that Harvey Milk is looking back, proud to have been your friend. I wish I could have known the transformative figure.

      I’m now friends with allot of great leaders that continue to lead his legacy. As you may know I’m very good friends with Jeremy Dias, the Director of Jer’s Vision who continues to challenge Transphobia, Homophobia, Biphobia and many other forms of oppression. Susan Gapka the Director of The Trans Lobby Group. Ian MacDonald a Harvey Milk expert who sought me out to teach me more about the great person Harvey has been known to be. Gilles Marchildon the former Executive Director of Egale Canada Human Rights Trust and Helen Kennedy the Executive Director of Egale; the largest Canadian national LGBTQ* organization. Noa Mendelsohn Aviv the Director of the Equality Program at The Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Roy Douglas Elliott a Partner at Cambridge LLP and one of the most notable Class-Action lawyers in Canada. Davina Hader, Nick Mulé and Richard Hudler at the grass-roots organization, Queer Ontario. Andrea Luey a staff lawyer at the Canadian Foundation for Children Youth & the Law. Cheri DiNovo an NDP member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario who endorsed my GSA Press Conference at Queen’s Park. John Tory the new mayor of Toronto who gave me unsolicited advice on NewsTalk1010 that lead to my mediation hearing. Olivia Chow an incredibly sought out leader and the wife of the late-Jack Layton. Morgan Baskin an 18 year old who filed to be the next mayor of the city of Toronto. Kathleen Wynne the present Premier of the Government of Ontario and Justin Trudeau the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. As you can see I have gotten great support from allot of great leaders. I’m sure I could list many more.

      I will continue to learn from them and I will continue to seek great leaders such as yourself.
      I hope you will connect with me at (

      I hope I can learn more about you and count you among many of my new friends.

      1. Correction: “LGBTQ*” should be writen as LGBTQ+.

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