Catholic School Student Told Not to Use Harvey Milk Quotation

In Ontario, Canada, there has been an ongoing struggle in state-funded Catholic schools to comply with a law there to allow gay-straight alliances (GSA) to form.   This controversy added a new wrinkle to it recently when a Catholic school in a Toronto suburb refused to allow a student to use a quote from gay-rights leader Harvey Milk on a poster for the GSA.

Christopher Karras holding an image of Harvey Milk

Student Christopher Karras, who attends École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Famille, part of the Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique Centre-Sud (Catholic Central South District School Board) in Mississauga, chose a quote from Milk to advertise the existence of the newly-formed student organization.

DailyXtra.com reported:

“The Milk quote — ‘All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential’ — has been deemed to be too controversial, according to an email Karas received from his vice-principal in October.

“ ‘I was told that I can’t have a picture of Harvey Milk or his quote on the posters,’ Karas says. ‘I also had “sexual orientation” written on the posters.’
“But Karas says vice-principal Vicki Marcotte told him to change that to ‘self-expression’ because ‘she felt it was too much about LGBT community and not inclusive of everyone.’ “
In an email, Marcotte said she would not allow the quote because it was “tendentious.”
Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was the first openly-gay man elected to public office in California when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the 1970s. He was assassinated by Dan White, another member of the Board of Supervisors.

The earlier controversy over establishing such clubs focused around the Catholic schools board’s wish not to name them “gay-straight alliances,” but “diversity clubs.”   The group in the Mississauga school is not labelled as a GSA, but is called “Porte Ouverte (Open Doors).”
Yet, the struggle for the group’s identity has not ended by simply changing the name.  Karras says there has been other intervention by the school administration.  According to DailyXtra.com:
” . . . he says the school is trying to prevent it from becoming ‘too focused on queer stuff.’
“Karas feels the board and school administrators are censoring and restricting the content of the group and making it difficult for the group to present itself as a GSA.
“Davina Smith, another of the group’s founders, says the posters have caused unnecessary friction between the group and the school’s administration.
“ ‘This gets on my nerves,’ she says, noting that the objection to the poster design gives the impression that the board is homophobic. ‘That’s the impression that I get . . . Harvey Milk is talking about giving youth hope. What’s wrong with that?’ “
Catholic school officials need to learn that opposing discussions of sexual orientation among students is not going to keep students from discussing these topics.  Furthermore, wouldn’t it have been nice if the vice-principal could have seen that what Harvey Milk’s quote was saying is really not very different from their own goals as a Catholic school?  Much education remains to be done.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
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6 thoughts on “Catholic School Student Told Not to Use Harvey Milk Quotation

  1. Friends February 2, 2014 / 6:52 am

    FYI, the photo you tried to attach (of Chris holding a picture of Harvey Milk) is NOT appearing in the space where it should be at the very top of the article. Here’s a direct link to view it:

    Once again, it seems that the most culturally reactionary and retrograde elements in Catholic school administration are wrecking havoc upon Pope Francis’ dramatic initiative to open up the Church, and to make it welcoming to ALL people of sincere faith. “Small minds have a small field of vision.” I don’t know what else to say, at this point.

  2. Lydia Lombardo February 2, 2014 / 9:41 am

    Sad, sad, sad. When does the book burning start? Now there are two places I hope my grandchildren never end up in: A Catholc Unversity nor a Catholic Hosptal if one of them is pregnant. I am appalled, disappointed, disillusioned, devastated. The struggle to stay Catholc just became a bit harder. An original Chicagan, I am still reeling from Cardinal George’s revelations last week about the sexual abuse that went on while I lived there and raised my family. When I went on the data base, I actually knew two of the priests who both were assistants at St. Mary’s. Des Plaines, IL (Chicago suburb) when my kids were growing up. And there was another priest accused at St. Tim’s in Lutz, FL where we retired. That’s a daunting statistic! I personally knew three priests who abused children. And the church has the nerve to ban a quote from a gay man that a high schooler used. Quick, lets tear down the Sistine Chapel because a gay man painted it, and the David, and the DaVinci’s famous Last Supper picture. What hypocrisy. I better stop, my BP is rising, not good for an 81 year old who, incidentally, is a graduate of ALL Catholic schools through college. Only the Eucharist keeps me Catholic.

    • amagjuka February 2, 2014 / 6:18 pm

      Well put. The Eucharist keeps me Catholic, as well as the Holy Spirit, alive and well in the world, making most Catholics sure that discrimination has no place in our religious tradition. The faithful must speak up and voice our consciences loud and clear–we will not be a party to this hateful discrimination. We stand for social justice.

  3. Terence February 2, 2014 / 9:43 am

    Bizarre. Sexual orientation is NOT specific to gay people, and is NOT a matter of “self – expression”. The right to be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and freedom from any malice or violence, in speech or in actions, are clearly embedded in Vatican teaching on the subject, There is absolutely nothing in the Milk quotation that is remotely in conflict with standard Church teaching – but the school’s action clearly is.

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