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Gay rights project approved at Ottawa Catholic school

Two Grade 6 students now want to start a GSA

One of the protest signs made by St George Elementary School students Quinn and Polly after they found out their principal had barred their proposed social-justice project on gay rights.

Ottawa Grade 6 students Quinn and Polly will get to do their project on gay rights — and they have even bigger plans moving forward.

According to Ann Maloney, Quinn’s mother, she and Polly’s parents met with St George’s Elementary School’s administration on Dec 8 for more than an hour and were able to resolve the issue.

In a statement sent to Xtra, the Ottawa Catholic School Board’s Mardi de Kemp said the girls would be welcome to do a project on how gay rights are addressed by a Catholic high school’s equity club and present it at their school’s social-justice fair in 2015. She added that there would be no one available for Xtra to interview from the OCSB.

The pair of Grade 6 students at St George Elementary School had originally chosen the topic of gay rights for a social-justice project, but it was barred by their principal, Ann Beauchamp, allegedly over concerns about the age-appropriateness of the project. Quinn and Polly protested the decision at school and later to the media.

After the news broke, the OCSB announced they would meet with Quinn and Polly’s parents.

Maloney told Xtra that she was happy with how the situation was resolved. “I think it’s been so empowering for the girls,” she says. “They came up against a road block — something that was important to them, something they wanted to do that they thought was important. They took action and they got results.” Polly’s mother, Kate Hamilton, was not available for an interview.

In addition to doing their project, Quinn and Polly are now also hoping to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at St George’s. They got the idea after meeting with Jeremy Dias, who runs Jer’s Vision, an anti-bullying and -homophobia organization, after news about the vetoing of their project broke.

“The girls got all excited,” Maloney says. “The next day, they went to the principal and said, ‘We’re going to start a GSA and we’d like you to assign a teacher to it.’” According to Maloney, the principal has since connected Quinn and Polly with a GSA at a Catholic high school in Kanata, Ontario, which will help them start a similar group at St George’s. It will also be part of the culminating activity for Quinn and Polly’s social-justice project.

Both girls have been invited to take part in an OCSB focus group that meets every second year to take stock of the climate of school in terms of bullying and respectful behaviour, according to Maloney.

Maloney says it was great that the girls’ protest was validated. “At 11 years old, that’s going to stay with them forever,” she says. “They are always going to have that feeling that the individual can make change.”