Catholic schools association denies LGBT discrimination after cancelling sexual health fundraiser

1 / 2
Student facing charges after police seize BB gun at Saskatoon high school

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools is denying it cancelled a dodgeball fundraiser at one of its schools because it learned the money raised would go towards teaching young men about sexual identity.

Saskatoon Sexual Health executive director Jillian Schwandt said Georges Vanier Catholic Fine Arts School's principal called her on Thursday to enquire about how money raised from the "Balls to the Wall" fundraiser would be spent.

Schwandt said the principal was positive about the programming until she mentioned it would pay for education about sexual identity.

She said less than an hour later, the schools association called the sexual health organization to cancel the venue, citing the fact that there would be alcohol sales on school premises.

"As soon as I mentioned sexual identity, that's when really the conversation flipped and the whole tone really changed," said Schwandt.

She said comments made by the facilities manager, which she didn't elaborate on, also made her think alcohol was not the reason the venue was cancelled.

In a news release issued on Friday, Saskatoon Sexual Health said it was considering making a human rights claim relating to LGBT discrimination.

GSCS says cancellation is booking issue

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools denied the cancellation was because of Saskatoon Sexual Health's connections to LGBT programming.

"This is a facilities booking issue, not a position we are taking against the sponsoring group," said Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools​ superintendent of administrative services Joel Lloyd.

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools said the principal did not have the authority to cancel the event and that the phone call changing the venue was independent from the principal's queries.

It offered to move the event to Saskatoon French School at a reduced rate, but Schwandt said Saskatoon Sexual Health declined based on its concerns over discrimination.

Venue moved multiple times

If Saskatoon Sexual Health had accepted the offer, it would have been the third time Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools relocated the event.

The booking for the fundraiser was originally made in January for Oskayak High School.

Lloyd said Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools only learned last week that the event included alcohol, a claim refuted by Saskatoon Sexual Health.

He said the event had to be moved because Oskayak does not allow alcohol on the premises, as it does not align with Indigenous spirituality.

Lloyd said the school association worked with Saskatoon Sexual Health to find an alternate location. 

"Because it is somewhat last-minute, options were limited," said Lloyd.

"We initially proposed Georges Vanier. After learning more about the event, it was determined that Saskatoon French School would be a more appropriate venue."

Saskatoon French School was chosen for parking and logistics reasons, the school association said.

Former student disappointed

Former Georges Vanier school student Danielle Altrogge said she was unsatisfied by the school association's response.

Altrogge, who is bisexual, said reading the Saskatoon Sexual Health news release made her reflect on some of the reasons she had not come out publicly until a year ago.

"I doubt the principal is checking up on all yoga classes or other random things that are hosted in the gym outside of school hours," said Altrogge.

"And it's one thing to maintain Catholic teachings during school hours when there are students who are consenting to that present. But it's another thing to change your rental policy at the last minute just because you don't like what the fundraising will go towards."

Altrogge wrote on Facebook she had previously respected the school because it had introduced art to her life at a young age.

She returned to the school last year to run a spoken-word poetry workshop in her brother's classroom.

Although Altrogge said there were conversations about continuing that work in the future, she said she would not be returning to the school unless Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools offered a fuller explanation of the fundraiser relocation.

Tournament will go ahead: SSH

Schwandt, too, was unsatisfied with the schools association's explanation, saying its decision pointed to the fact that society had not fully accepted gender and sexually-diverse people.

"It's really sad and disappointing when things like this happen because there are so many great things happening in our community," said Schwandt. 

"I think there still is some uncomfortability for people around issues of sexual health, which is really problematic considering that we have the highest rates of HIV in the province."

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools said it had updated its rental application forms so future applications would be clearer about potential alcohol sales. 

The dodgeball tournament will now be held at Building 3, 29 Airport Cres. in Saskatoon.