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Principal takes over first gay alliance meeting, group says

Taechun Menns, 16, left, and Leanne Iskander, 16, right, are trying to start a GSA at St Joseph's Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga.

Andrea Houston / Xtra photo/Andrea Houston / Xtra photo

A Mississauga high school principal faces the ire of students after she drew an umbrella on a blackboard at the launch of their first gay-straight alliance group meeting.

Leanne Iskander, one of the founders of the St. Joseph's Secondary School group, said she was shocked the principal drew an umbrella to symbolize their GSA would have to be a part of an all-encompassing equity group.

"I know so many of the students were mad, but they didn't say anything because it was intimidating have the principal there," Ms. Iskander said Tuesday. "I think the meeting would have gone better if she hadn't been there."

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When the 16-year-old first approached principal Frances Jacques to start a GSA, she was quickly turned down and referred to other equity options with a Catholic spin. Bruce Campbell, spokesman for Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, said that the response by the St. Joseph's principal was one "the board wholeheartedly supports."

On Monday, the board's education director John Kostoff wrote in an that "It is our practice (...) to frame discussions (...) under the umbrella of a broader community focus on equity and diversity, and through a Catholic lens."

That effectively means there is an unwritten ban on GSAs at the Catholic school board, argued Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, spokeswoman for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

"It's unconstitutional to deny these students the right to express themselves," Ms. Aviv said. "It goes against their Charter Rights. At the end of day, yes, it is a Catholic school, but it is also a publicly funded Catholic school that is required to respect these students' rights."

Ms. Aviv attempted to join the GSA launch meeting on Friday, but was not allowed entry on school property. In spite of the hostility the students face, more than a hundred came to the group's meeting, Ms. Iskander said, adding several students were left without seats and piled into the hallway.

"We've definitely got the support of so many students," she said. "In fact, students from another [Mississauga]Catholic school also came to support us and they want to start their own GSA. Believe me, this isn't going away."

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