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Student files $25,000 suit against Ontario high school

Christopher Karas suffered humiliation and mental anguish over school’s actions, suit alleges

Christopher Karas is one of the founders of the GSA at École Secondaire Catholique Ste-Famille, a French Catholic school in Mississauga. Credit: Andrea Houston

A gay Mississauga student has filed a $25,000 discrimination complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against his high school and school board, alleging a pattern of anti-gay bias.

Christopher Karas is a Grade 12 student at École Secondaire Catholique Ste-Famille who says he has faced disparaging comments from students and teachers and attempts to prevent him from establishing a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at the school.

Karas first came to media attention last year after his school administrators censored posters for his GSA, which included a quote from Harvey Milk. The quote read, “All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”

But Karas’s complaint against the board alleges a pattern of discriminatory actions going back to the 2011/12 school year. In that year, Karas, who had come out as gay in his school, attended an overnight school trip where students were to share hotel rooms. Some of Karas’s male classmates were reassigned out of his hotel room after they said they’d be uncomfortable sharing a room with him because of his sexual orientation. Karas was also the target of homophobic bullying on the trip, the case alleges.

The complaint also alleges that a religious instructor “made homophobic statements such as . . . ‘Gay people should not be permitted to adopt children’” and that a psychology teacher refused to discuss same-sex parenting in a class about family structures due to the school’s religious nature.

In another class, Karas was forced to read a novel called Poison, by Doric Germain, in which a teenaged boy is beaten by his father when he’s caught having sex with another boy. “The book generally suggests that Patrick’s life is out of control due to his homosexuality and he himself realizes that his sexual-orientation will inevitably prevent him from leading a normal life,” the suit alleges.

The complaint also alleges that the school administration worked to undermine Karas’s fledgling GSA, “Porte Ouverte,” and quotes statements given by the principal to Xtra at the time. The administration also allegedly retaliated against Karas’s attempts to assert his rights by refusing to sign off on his community hours log.

Since the suit was filed, Karas alleges that the school board has blocked from being accessed on the school’s WiFi network. Xtra was the first news source to report on Karas’s complaints, in December 2013.

Karas acknowledges that he will have graduated by the time the tribunal makes its decision but hopes he leaves a legacy for future gay students. “I want to see the school board and the school put in place a culture of acceptance. I want them to teach love and not hate in our school.”

In addition to the monetary damages, the complaint seeks a letter of apology, a harassment and discrimination policy, mandatory sensitivity training, gender-neutral washrooms in all schools and removal of the book Poison from the curriculum.

Neither the school’s principal nor the school board is willing to comment on the case. The Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique Centre-Sud released a statement saying that it has not yet received the complaint but that it intends to analyze it and respond to the Human Rights Tribunal.