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.