A Toronto-area teenager who alleges repeated homophobic discrimination at his Catholic high school feels he is "winning" now that a rights tribunal is looking into his complaints.
Christoper Karas said he submitted a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal listing more than 35 allegations, including teachers who marginalized gays in the classroom and a teacher who facilitated his shunning by some fellow students on a class trip.
"I think the way [the school board] responded to my human-rights-tribunal application is a lot like the way they've responded to me," the Grade 12 student at École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Famille in Mississauga said Sunday afternoon. "They've rejected what I've said. They haven't tried to constructively address the issues."
A spokesperson for the school board – the Conseil scolaire de district catholique Centre-Sud – did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. In a recent press release summarizing their response to the tribunal, they denied the allegations, calling them without foundation and saying they must be rejected.
"There was no discrimination based on sexual orientation," the French-language release read in part.
The 18-year-old Mr. Karas tells a very different story, saying that his problems date to 2012, when he tried to start a group offering support for gay students. He says that the school board dragged its heels, delaying for 20 months the launch of the group. And he lists other specific examples of what he said was anti-gay treatment.
There was the time a religion teacher said in class that gays should not be able to adopt, he alleges. And there was the psychology teacher, he also alleges, who refused to include examples of same-sex couples as family structures. There was the teacher who accommodated students who said their religion didn't allow them to share sleeping space with Mr. Karas on a field trip, moving them to another room. And the student says he was forced to study a book, Doric Germain's Poison, that he remembers for a depiction of violent homophobia.
In its release about its response, the school board denied homophobic behaviour by teachers and said staff do all they can to intervene if students are discriminatory. With regards to the book to which Mr. Karas objected, they noted that it conformed with the Ontario curriculum, was not hate literature and that the teaching of it was not intended to encourage homophobia.
None of the allegations have been tested at the tribunal, which only recently agreed to hear the case. Mr. Karas now has a chance to counter the school board's response to his complaint.
Arguments about whether faith-based institutions can treat gays differently have gained resonance since Trinity Western University – which requires its student to pledge not to have sex outside "the sanctity of Christian marriage" – moved to start a law school. Opponents say the requirement is clearly discriminatory but supporters cite religious freedom as justification.
For Mr. Karas, the situation he says he's encountered shows some people have forgotten the love – and compassion-based part of religion. And he's not willing to let them trample on his rights.
"I wanted to go to the human-rights tribunal because it was important for me to have accountability for what had happened, but also most importantly to be heard," he said. "They're discriminating against me."
Mr. Karas is seeking $25,000 compensation and a letter of apology from the school board. He is also pursuing several so-called "public interest remedies," including gender-neutral washrooms, sensitivity training for students and employees of the board and removing the offending book from the curriculum.
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Editor's note: The print version and an earlier online version of this story contained inaccurate information. This version has been corrected.