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.
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