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. i guess they won’t be talking about the covenant at the end of noah’s flood, ever

    • That was my first thought too! I know rainbow is mentioned at least once in the Bible, so I guess that part will just be redacted?

  2. 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!

    • your comment is win. banning the Biblical symbol of God’s promise to his people? now that is some crazy-ass homophobia.

    • 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

  3. my school banned pokemon cards, I know it’s not the same, but it’s equally as stupid.

    • Dude! At my (Ontario, I might add!) public school we were only allowed to have them on Wednesdays.

        • that happened to me too and i still haven’t recovered. my tamagotchi died because i left it alone all day while i was at school. trauma.

      • i think only having them on wednesday would be worse than an always ban, cuz i would forget it was wednesday.

        also, next year my school is banning hoodies. i predict everyone will cry all the time/freeze/die

        • Our school tried to ban jackets in class. It worked for all of two days and then the school realized that the AC was set to arctic and that students weren’t bringing jackets to school in the middle of winter. The parents loved that.
          It’s like the bookbag ban, and the silly band ban.
          Just more ridiculous – you can’t ban a color!!!

    • I went to a Catholic grade school. They banned snap bracelets and sent a letter home to parents saying Friends was not an appropriate show for kids to watch.

    • i almost went to a Catholic school that banned those little button things that are in pockets of jeans. like what does that even mean?!!! ironically enough i thank God everyday i had the sense to avoid that sad situation.

    • They do have Bayblades in merica, right? because we had those banned. I’d only just the hang of them.

    • I was at an all girls school in mtl for two years; they banned beaned (mardi gras style) necklaces. And the banned gayness. And I got kicked out for depression.

      so I’d say: “Quebec, even sneakier then Canada”

  4. 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.

  5. “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….

  6. 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.

    • Why does the govt. fund this drivel. I’m sure every bridge and road in Ontario are in impeccable condition and could not use any improvements.

      • That’s definitely what’s always confused me about Ontario – I do not understand how there’s a publicly-funded Catholic school. It’s blatantly hypocritical.

  7. 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.

  8. As a former Ontario Catholic school attendee, I would just like to say, “Hello, I’m gay.”

    But I should also say that I don’t think this ever would have happened at my high school.

  9. If this was Facebook and Jesus Christ had a profile… I think this would def. call for an “unlike” button.

    :( boo!

  10. 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.

  11. The Catholic Church: Standing with Iran against African women at the UN and with the right-wingers against all women and gays everywhere.

  12. first they ban rainbows, then they ban unicorns/dolphins/assymetrical hair cuts.
    where will it end homogays….. where will it end?

  13. 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?

  14. Students, please drop out of school before your brain forms into an actual barcode reader.

  15. 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.

  16. What if a bunch of kids in different coloured shirts all stood in a row?

    They better go on and pick a colour or two to ban, just so no rogue spectrums come into alignment.

  17. 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!

    • Yes! Exactly. I think this is why many Pagan’s also identify as Recovering Catholics (or you can insert your favorite patriachal religion here.)

  18. 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

    • Well those commercials for skittles are always telling kids to “taste the rainbow”…we all know what THAT secretly means…

  19. My catholic school was LGBT friendly. They only thing they banned was sport clothing in classrooms.

  20. Well, We all know the power of the rainbow to destroy everything holy and sacred in Catholicism.

    • 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.”

  21. 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.

  22. Oh Canada, I’m so disappointed in you. This is ridiculous. Sometimes it feels like 1 step forward, 2 steps back.

  23. 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

  24. 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

  25. Pingback: Response from my MPP on GSAs

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  28. Pingback: One step forward, one step back

  29. 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. -_-

  30. 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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