Ontario Catholic School Bans Rainbows. Yup. Rainbows! They Banned RAINBOWS.

Members of Catholic Students for GSAs. By Andrea Houston, for Xtra.

Members of the unofficial gay-straight alliance at St. Joseph Catholic Secondary School, in Mississauga, were told that they couldn’t display rainbows at their June 3 anti-homophobia event.

Leanne Iskander, the 16-year-old founder of the unofficial GSA, told Xtra:

“We brought signs and posters with rainbows and we were told that we can’t put them up. They said rainbows are associated with Pride. There’s so many other things that a rainbow could be. It’s ridiculous.”

To get around the ban, students baked cupcakes with rainbow batter, but they weren’t allowed to donate the proceeds to a lesbian-, gay-, or trans-related organization, such as Youth Line. Instead, they were told to donate to a Catholic homeless shelter. They were also prevented from distributing materials such as an AIDS Committee of Toronto flyer, information about harassment in sports, and a booklet from the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation called Shout Out Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia and Heterosexism.

According to Casey Oraa, from Queer Ontario, in Xtra, the ridiculous response from the school is in line with the Catholic school board’s overall treatment of queer students:

“The Catholic board gave the students a carrot to try to silence them when they announced the anti-bullying clubs. But it’s not enough and it’s not meeting the needs of youth. The students recognize that and they are fighting for what they want.

Nothing the schools do surprises me anymore. Not allowing the rainbow flag? They have no concept of diversity. [The board] is pushing back because Leanne is a problem for the school. She’s also a problem for Catholic school boards and the Ministry of Education. Leanne’s a problem in the best possible way, even more than she even realizes it. It’s fantastic she’s a problem.”

In April, the group tried to use the name Rainbow Alliance, but the principal said it was “too LGBT-sounding.” Instead, she pushed for the name “Open Arms,” presumably because there is no link between the name and actual gay people.

The group is planning to march in Toronto Pride this year, under the name Catholic Students for GSAs. So far, the principal has allowed this, as long as the students don’t go around talking about what school they go to or anything. Iskander has also been named the honoured dyke and “unofficial” youth grand marshal of this year’s Pride Parade.

An anti-bullying policy introduced by the Ontario Minister of Education recommended that school boards support policies that allow gay-straight alliances if the students request one, and that teachers form one if no students take the initiative. The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario responded in a letter to the Catholic school boards, saying that GSAs “imply a self-identification with sexual orientation that is often premature among high-school students.”

In November, members of the Halton Catholic District School Board banned GSAs, with Clarisse Schneider, a trustee and Grade 11 student, arguing that, “We as students are asked to be chaste so sexual activity at this point, whether heterosexual or homosexual, should really be moot.” Another trustee, Jane Michael, said, “I believe that gay-straight alliances necessitate students to self-identify and that’s not in the best interest of the students. It’ll be like, ‘Hello I’m gay.'” Presumably, she saw this as a bad thing. The board’s ban on GSAs was overturned in January, but students have still had problems actually creating groups.

Though GSAs are not officially banned, the Board wants students to create SIDE (safety, inclusivity, diversity, equity) groups instead, which will be run by trained staff members and which, according to Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, a representative from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, is like “disbanding the basketball team and telling the athletes that they can only join an all-purpose sports club.”

Whether official or otherwise, anti-homophobia events (and anti-discrimination events, when they include anti-homophobia content) in Catholic schools face ongoing problems. Toronto-based lesbian comedian Dawn Whitwell was invited to preform at an anti-homophobia event at Bishop Marrocco-Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School yesterday, but was told not to show up. In the Globe and Mail, Whitwell said, “I was told the board didn’t approve of my marriage.”

According to a spokesperson for the school board, the decision was actually based on the fact that Whitwell was a comedian, and they were worried she’d make fun of the bullying issue. This seems unlikely. And at least if she did, someone would be talking about it.

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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Yeah, ‘And then, to symbolise his promise to the chosen people God- OH DEAR LORD CLOSE THE BOOK!’
    Seriously, banning rainbows? What’s next,banning kittens? Get it together Ontario!

    • Haha it’s not all of Ontario’s fault, really. It’s the Catholic School Board in the Mississauga area that needs to get sensible.

      I go to a school in Toronto that does not tolerate homophobia at all. I wish other principals would take after my principal’s excellent example of being tolerant and open to all sexualities.

    • It’s funny how different the art schools are from the Catholic schools in Ontario, at least in my city.

      My school is super tolerant and accepting of all members of the LGBT community. It’s sad that some of the other principals can’t get with the program like my principal, who is probably older than most of these asshole principals. He’s the best :D

  2. I’m a co-exec (and have been for the past two years) of my Ontario high school’s GSA. We’re with the public school board, but still, I mean, it’s rough. Two years ago we littered the entire school with posters for our club (trying to discourage people from saying “That’s so gay”) and put all of them in front of cameras. The next day, all of the posters on the first floor were gone. A surprising number of them were actually taken down by TEACHERS.

    Not to mention the teacher I had that once joked about how “faggot” used to mean bundle of sticks or whatever, and Hannibal (I think?) tied some to elephants and made them rush some city while the sticks were on fire. “GET IT GET IT FLAMING FAGGOTS?? AHAHAHAHAHA.”

    Gay marriage, yes
    Acceptance… not even close.

  3. “The group is planning to march in Toronto Pride this year, under the name Catholic Students for GSAs. So far, the principal has allowed this, as long as the students don’t go around talking about what school they go to or anything.”

    This baffles me. How does the school have any say in what a group of its students does off campus outside of school hours? The school doesn’t endorse their group, so they aren’t representing the school. It’s really none of the school’s business if a group of friends want to get together to march in the Pride Parade.

    • Unfortunately, at some Catholic schools, the student handbook has a morality clause (just like the teachers’ contracts). The morality clause states that students (or teachers) can be asked to leave if their behavior in or out of school is not in keeping with the morality or ethics of the Catholic church.
      I think they forgot the whole “love your neighbor as yourself” thing that Jesus said….

  4. As somebody who was a student at Ontario PUBLIC Catholic schools, I am not really surprised by this in some ways, and shocked in others. Obviously the church is overall anti-gay, but shouldn’t they legally not be allowed to do this???

    Also, for those elsewhere who might not know this system very well, these schools are public, government funded, and anyone can attend, but often, in my experience, better than the non-religious schools. So, a huge population is normally not at all Catholic.

  5. I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Genesis 9:13

    And they’re banning rainbows? Apparently they hate the thought of accepting gay people THIS MUCH. Wow.

  6. The GSA should start a new club dedicated to the weather and earth sciences. Name the club Geology and Aerology, Yay! (Aerology is a fancy word that includes meteorology and atmospheric sciences.) The acronym just so happens to be GAYS. Then, make your club’s logo a giant-ass rainbow and two raindrops with lipstick and long eyelashes(two female raindrops) hugging. Make the club’s theme song “It’s Raining Men.” LET’S SEE THEM STOP THAT CLUB.

  7. What if an actual rainbow arches over the school?
    What if you’re in art class and you’re learning about roygbv?
    What if a unicorn ran through the school with skittles falling out its ass?

    Can you ban it?

  8. Ugh. I can’t believe this is happening.

    At least at my Ontario Catholic School Board a proper GSA is being set up with backing from the board. My friend, who is the student trustee, said that they plan to implement it in a year or two.

  9. I only went to kindergarten at a Catholic school, but it was bullshit like this that got me questioning Christianity starting that very year.

    Now I’m a queer Pagan feminist. So I guess what I’m saying is: Thanks for sucking, Catholic schools! If you hadn’t been so aggressively awful, it might have taken me a lot longer figuring out that viable, positive alternatives exist!

  10. my (all girls) school doesn’t even mention it, god forbid they talk to us about homosexuality, then we’d ALL want to be gay instead of nuns D: I think fun is banned here…skittles are next :c

    • Geometry is going to be pretty interesting at this school. Imagine the trouble inquisitive students will get into.

      “Suzy, we don’t talk about that shape in this classroom. I’m going to have to confiscate that diagram and send your parents this note explaining how you disrupted class to promote your filthy sex talk.”

  11. There’s this amazing fact that so many people seem to be missing. I know it’s weird but GAY PEOPLE ARE GAY EVEN IF THEY ARE NOT HAVING SEX!

    Bizarre, right? It’s almost like being gay is sort of part of a person’s identity, or something. I don’t know; it all sounds sort of confusing and abstract, and it might imply that these people deserve equal treatment, which is obviously not okay.

    But seriously, the issue of chastity is completely unrelated, and the quote from the student saying the point of GSAs was moot is painful: it’s so obvious that WE NEED GSAs so people stop saying ignorant things like that. I hope students keep fighting for this.

  12. I remember that at my school. A couple of girls got expulsion, they was lesbians and get cough kissing in the library. That event was so long time ago, like 9years or something. The school was a only girl catholic school, and a lot of lesbian came out of there. Now the monks are more openmid, but they introduce boys just in case

  13. This is ridiculous! I can understand pokemon cards and tamagotchis…but rainbows?

    Obviously they don’t give a hoot about an actual rainbow, it’s their homophobia and discrimination that’s resulting in this. Sheesh

  14. Pingback: Response from my MPP on GSAs

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  18. wow, rainbows? really?
    like, my principle at my catholic hs is rumored to be homophobic, but at least he has sense to not make it as big of a deal, and go banning rainbows. like, wtf? XD

    so what would they do if a rainbow appeared over their school?
    oh the dilemma they’d have LOL
    also, what if someone was Nyan Cat for halloween? make the poor fellow go back home, wasting their time and effort just because of a rainbow? This is honestly pretty immature for hs staff who usually tell the students to grow up. -_-

  19. Just heard Andrea Houston talk about this at the “sex and secularism” conferance in Montreal. Really interesting – and absolutely shocking. Good luck with the rest of the fight! We’ll be cheering you on from Scandinavia…

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