'Gay-straight alliance' now accepted by Windsor's Catholic board

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board reversed its initial decision and must now allow groups to be named the "gay-straight alliance" if students make the request.

Province forces schools to allow name

Dallas Mahaney, 16, a Saint Thomas of Villanova Catholic High School student is trying to start a "gay-straight alliance" at his school to help destroy homophobia. (CBC)

Windsor's Catholic board tried to condemn gay-straight alliances from forming in its schools, but now the province has forced its hand.

The Catholic board reversed its initial decision and must now allow the name if students make the request, which is exactly what one high school student intends to do.

"There's a lot of homophobia at our school and I think it would benefit our school a lot to have a safe environment for everyone," said Dallas Mahaney.

The 16-year-old Saint Thomas of Villanova Catholic High School said he's comfortable with being gay. He hopes the alliance will help destroy homophobia.

"It helps when you have friends and family that support you," Mahaney said about his sexuality.

"They said it was alright, nothing is going to change and they still love me. They just said to be yourself and love who you are," he said.

On May 29, CBC News reported the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board will roll out student equality clubs.

They said the title is non-negotiable and students cannot name the groups the "Gay-Straight Alliance."

The Catholic board found itself backpedalling because of Bill 13, which amended the Education Act with new bullying and discrimination provisions.

"Our position is to be fully compliant with the law. We're law abiding citizens and it's important as adults and as leaders in the school system to show that and to follow the mandate based on the Bill 13 guidelines so we will put structures in place," said Superintendant of Education Mike Seguin.

Sequin said the schools will comply with any request to name a group the "Gay-Straight Alliance."

"We're actually planning for that right now for students to make those requests. We still are going to go forward with our social justice equity clubs because we feel that we need to have a place for all people and that they feel comfortable," said Seguin.

Mahaney said it was important for him to tackle the issue head-on and bring a "Gay-Straight Alliance" to his school.

"I've seen a lot of deaths in the (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community and it's among all the teenagers and I thought if I could save one person's life, it's something that I need to do," said Mahaney.

The Windsor Pride Community Centre is involved by helping students across Windsor-Essex learn about leadership and mentoring to help improve gay-straight alliances with a new Schools Out Program. 

"I've seen a lot of deaths in the (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community ... I thought if I could save one person's life, it's something that I need to do." 

"Perhaps a diversity club isn't facing the same sort of pressure that a gay-straight alliance will. So we want to make sure that they know how to effectively run events and effectively communicate with each other and the administration to make sure they are always doing the right things," said Jouvon Evans, Windsor Pride facilitator.

Evans said she was elated when the province forced schools to let students name school groups as the choose.

"Everyone was really pleased. I think just in general everyone thought that it was something that many people felt was necessary, but it now reinforced it in law," said Evans.

She said students have been productive and enthusiastic about having a "gay-straight alliance" in their schools.

Mahney is one of those students, who said these groups can only help everyone.

"A lot of facts state that a gay-straight alliance will only benefit a school. It won't make it worse because it promotes the LGBT, it gives education, history, stops harassment and its reported more incidents that take place," said Mahaney.

Mahaney said he hopes the gay-straight alliance he's trying to bring to his high school will be a success.

But said it probably won't be a seamless transition.

"I think we need a big turnout and the school being OK with it and allowing it, encouraging it and promoting it," said Mahaney.