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Gay trustee elected to Catholic board

Trustee says banning groups divides the community

Credit: Courtesy of Paul Marai

Newly elected Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) trustee Paul Marai may find himself at odds with his fellow trustees, especially if the board revisits its decision to ban gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

Marai is a practising Catholic, the youngest person elected in October’s municipal election, an activist – and he is also gay.

The 22-year-old trustee has been in the spotlight recently, facing questions from a Christian website and other media about whether he will “push the gay agenda onto the board.”

“I will serve my community and my constituents,” he says.

Marai is co-chair of Out on Bay Street, a gay activist group that helps graduates land jobs in Toronto’s business sector. He says he’s never tried to hide his activism from his constituents.

HCDSB chair Alice Anne LeMay says Marai’s “gay lifestyle” does not affect the business of the board.

“He has a right to be a trustee and he is a trustee,” LeMay says. “It’s not a problem for the board, period.”

The Ministry of Education’s Equity and Inclusive Education policy passed in Halton only after amendments were made by the previous board on Nov 2 to ban gay-straight alliances.

Marai wouldn’t comment on why the previous board took such a hard-line position on the policy. He says he would welcome hearing from any students interested in starting up any student group.

“I was elected trustee after this policy was put in place,” he says. “Quite frankly, the policy must meet certain expectations.

“I think people are tired of groups banning things and trying to divide the community. I’m focused on how we can build the school system. I don’t think we should concentrate on banning student groups.”

The passed policy now goes to board administration, which decides if the policy can be implemented before reporting back to the board, Marai says. “If there’s an area in the policy that doesn’t fit the province’s policy guidelines, then it won’t go forward.

“So we’ll see what the province says about the board’s changes, quite frankly.”

Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, says an openly gay member of the board of trustees is a positive role model for students in Halton, especially gay students.

“Kudos to him,” she says. “We need to support him. What a role model for gay teens in the Catholic system to see an out politician at the board table.”