Yukon News

Vanier students demand gay-straight alliance

Jesse Winter Friday March 22, 2013

Ian Stewart/Yukon News


Opponents of Vanier Catholic Secondary School's same-sex attraction policy gathered at the Yukon legislature on Thursday, demanding the government take action against descrimination at the school.

More than 120 pink-clad protesters packed the lobby of the Yukon legislature yesterday to demand that the administration at Vanier Catholic Secondary allow a gay-straight alliance at the school. Many also questioned why the territory is publicly funding a school that tries to teach that being gay is wrong.

Vanier itself was strongly represented by students who said they disagreed with Bishop Gary Gordon’s conservative approach to religious education. Many spoke in support of two openly gay Vanier students - Liam Finnegan and Shara Layne - who took public stands against the bishop’s policies earlier this month.

The protesting students said they came with the full support of their teachers.

“The teachers are supportive of us being here. They understand that it’s what the bishop has set as policy, but a lot of the teachers disagree with it, they don’t think that’s right,” said Grade 12 Vanier student Ashley Renwick.

Renwick and her friends are part of Vanier’s social justice club. Daynika Jim is also a member. She was one of the students who helped cover up Layne’s locker after it was vandalized with the word “faggot” and the principal allegedly refused to fix it right away.

Jim said she wants to see Education Minister Kent allow a GSA at their school.

“Heck yes. My friend Liam (Finnegan) and I have been trying for a couple of years to get one going, and we had it for a little while but then our counsellor, Ms. Morgan, she had to leave. We need one of the higher-up teachers to say this group is OK. It would be great if (Vanier principal) Mr. Frison would say that, but it’s not going to happen,” Jim said.

When Vanier science teacher Brian Findlay arrived at the protest, he was met with cheers and high fives from Renwick, Jim and a group of their friends.

“I’m kind of muzzled on this issue. I’m just here,” he said. In terms of seeing his students stand up for a cause they believe in, Findley said, “it’s always great, the more the merrier.”

Vanier students Elliott Berg and Kevin McLachlan said it’s time for their teachers to take a stand as well.

“It is very small number (of people) that are making the big decisions at our school, with no consultation with students or the teachers. That’s where I see the big problem and the big divide. I think it’s time for teachers to speak up as well, and say that we disagree with the direction our school is going,” said McLachlan.

The Education Department does not allow Yukon teachers to speak to the media without prior approval, and calls to Vanier’s school council have repeatedly gone unreturned.

“The student body is definitely completely against (the policy), and absolutely we’re getting a bad rap but in my opinion, rightfully so,” said Berg.

He said only the administration and the bishop support the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality. He’s worried that the increasing conservatism at the school is driving away students and teachers.

“I think people need to recognize that this started about three years ago with the new principal and the new bishop coming to town. It’s been slow, but to me this is not a surprise. The Catholic Church always tries to keep things hidden and secretive. None of the administrators or the bishop have been willing to speak to the media,” said Berg.

McLachlan said that students at Vanier have been talking with the vice-principal at F.H. Collins, Christine Klassen-St. Pierre, and members of that school’s GSA about starting an inter-school club that would be more difficult for the bishop to ban.

The protesters were joined by NDP Leader Liz Hanson, interim Liberal Leader Sandy Silver and NDP Takhini-Kopper King MLA Kate White.

Protest organizer Owen Williams said he also extended a personal invitation to Education Minister Scott Kent, but it apparently wasn’t accepted.

“I haven’t seen him here, which is unfortunate because it would be wonderful if he did turn up. He would simply be supporting the Education Act, which I think he has done, and he’s beginning to do more,” said Williams.

Vanier’s policy came under fire earlier this month when parents complained about a policy document on the school’s website that called homosexuality a “disorder” and homosexual acts an “intrinsic moral evil.” Kent has since ordered the document removed, and he said in an open letter to the bishop that those teachings can have no application in any Yukon school, including Vanier.

Neither Vanier principal Ed Frison nor Bishop Gary Gordon have returned repeated calls from the News about the controversy.

Contact Jesse Winter at

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Chris wrote:
6:26pm Thursday March 28, 2013

I always wonder why the church goes out of its way to make sure that everybody knows that homosexuality is a “sin” and you’ll go to hell blah blah blah. What about divorce? thats just as bad in your book as homosexuality but I have NEVER seen a single catholic make any sort of fuss about it. Must be nice to pick and choose which part of your religion to stand up for.

free north wrote:
7:56pm Monday March 25, 2013

I have a few questions on this issue. I am not Catholic and in no way sharing my opinion (just curious).
I was wondering if people are upset about their tax dollars paying for a publicly funded Catholic education system, if anyone had considered how Catholics may feel about their tax dollars funding issues that they may not agree with (such as abortion)?
Also does the anger and frustration over this change at all if it is viewed as the Catholics are accepting of the LGBT community but not premarital or extra marital sex? Since Catholics don’t believe in premarital sex is not all sex (Heterosexual or homosexual)frowned upon and discouraged at all of the Catholic schools?

Just wondering.

Anonymous wrote:
1:22am Sunday March 24, 2013

J. Ellis: You mentioned CKES in your comment. I used to go to that school and I find that it is not homophobic at all. There is a teacher that’s a lesbian there, and she is very welcomed. I know of a few gay students at that school, and they are also accepted. It’s only an issue in Vanier. I’m not sure about Holy Family, but I know for a fact that CKES is welcoming and accepting of the LGBT community.

J. Ellis wrote:
6:53pm Saturday March 23, 2013

To Notahomophobic: It is true that Catholics have a right to their beliefs. And the bishop can preach what he wants in his church and people can make a choice to stay or leave.

But Vanier (and Christ the King) are publicly funded schools. My tax dollars and yours pay for it. So they have an obligation to reflect public policy & law in the administration of the school. If it was a privately funded school, this discussion would not have gotten this level of attention.

It is not just the GLBQT students who are impacted or who might want to leave to find a more supportive environment (not that they should have to). It affects straight kids too, many of whom demonstrated because they want a school that is inclusive and respectful. Many come from Catholic families; parents and students alike are appalled at the change in direction that the school has taken under the current administration.

And I very much doubt the change in direction is solely around sexual orientation issues. What about sex ed? What messages does the administration want young people to be taught about healthy relationships? Or about women’s role in the home and in the workforce?

As more supportive and progressive teachers leave for their own sanity, I anticipate things will get less inclusive and more conservative.

I cannot condone my tax dollars paying for a public institution that promotes or even condones intolerance (to say the least… I think they have gone far past intolerance in their language).

notahomophobic wrote:
3:42pm Saturday March 23, 2013

Iknow that I am going to get backlash on this…but its something I have to say.  First of all…I am not a gaybasher.  My daughter is in a lesbian relationship. I believe that everyone has a right to think the way they want.  What you don’t have a right to do…is stamp on the the believes of others.  That includes Catholics and other religious leaders.  They believe homosexuality is wrong.  Period.  You will not go to heaven if you are practicing homosexual.  Are they wrong?  Perhaps..You won’t know untill you die.  We need to find a common middle ground where everyone is allowed to believe in what we believe in.  I may not agree with you…but I would fight for you to have your believes.  That includes catholic bishops.  You put your kids in a catholic school…did you really think that homosexuality is condoned?  Come on people…there are lots of other schools in Whitehorse.  Why would you even want to go to a school where you are not accepted?  Gay kids have been going to Vanier since the school began…why is it such an isssue now….Ok…go ahead…let the bashing begin…I have broad shoulders….smile

noncatholiccommunitymember wrote:
11:46pm Friday March 22, 2013

There are many things to care for; the policy , the LGBT youth at the school, the straight allies, the silent teachers, the questionable administration, and the students concerned about the reputation of their school. All parties need to be cared for effectively and compassionately in the name of community.

How to care for them effectively is the question, and hopefully in the meantime their is no conflict within the school between the kids defending the honor and reputation of Vanier, and the Kids speaking out against bullying and the policy.

OH ya Check your facts butactually cause the administration at Vanier has said no to a Gay Straight Alliance Club in their school.

Anonymous wrote:
11:20pm Friday March 22, 2013

I feel for everyone at Vanier. They’re getting all the heat for the misconduct of the bishop and principal. The teachers may have been silenced, but the students sure aren’t! I’d like to bring up one point. The principal said that he couldn’t cover up the word on that girl’s locker until they find the right shade of paint. But as soon as someone writes “public school” on the outside wall of Vanier, he immediately gets it covered. Might I also add that he didn’t wait to find the right shade of paint, he covered up the writing on the green wall, with white paint. I find that very unfair to the poor girl who had to go to school everyday and see what’s on her locker. The principal couldn’t last a week with the words public school on his school wall.

Alan wrote:
10:57pm Friday March 22, 2013

These teachers’ careers are being dragged through the mud. All their training and dedication is being put at risk by innuendo and the grape vine.
Please be more charitable to everyone.

butactually wrote:
10:30pm Friday March 22, 2013

There is no ban on a support group at Vanier, nor has there ever been. There seems to be a recurring logical leap from a policy stating the Catholic Church’s teaching to an assumption that the school “bans gays” or a GSA and so on.

It would be refreshing to see some focus on facts and investigation, and less on people’s reactions to the media portrayal of people’s reaction to media portrayal of people’s reaction to media portrayal of…

Though, it sure sells papers.

Vanier Parent wrote:
10:23pm Friday March 22, 2013

Thank you Elliott and all you great Vanier students who stand up for what is right and truthful. You make us all proud. Lets hope we can get rid of Mr. Frison and find someone that is a better fit for the staff, the students, and the community. You are not modeling good behaviour or freedom of speech. What these young adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms is of no concern to you. What you are doing is not allowing them a voice, and showing them how to bully.  Do you really think they should be subject to this behaviour? I am embarrassed that my son attends this school, as do many other parents at this point.
This is public tax money we are talking about here. Our hard earned money to subject our kids to this.
Mr. Frison, you really should do the right thing and step away. We need someone that can make a difference with these kids.
Make a difference Mr. Frison, step away and let someone that loves the students make a positive difference. They truly deserve it, especially after the negative change you have made in that school .

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