Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

GSA told not to advertise: student

School board accused of discrimination

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STEINBACH -- A 16-year-old student says he was given permission to set up a gay-straight alliance group at his school in Steinbach, but was then told he couldn't advertise the existence of the group to classmates.

Evan Wiens is calling that discrimination, saying other student groups are allowed to put up posters at Steinbach Regional Secondary School -- just not his.

He hopes the NDP government will back him up, and on Thursday, Education Minister Nancy Allan said putting up posters advertising the group would be allowed if new legislation is passed during the spring sitting of the legislature.

Bill 18 has a clause stating schools should promote awareness, understanding and respect for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Officials with the Hanover School Division refused to comment on the matter.

"I'm not answering that question at this time," superintendent Randy Dueck said Thursday.

Wiens and his friends said they were told student groups aren't allowed to put up posters, but they said that rule is not enforced for other groups.

"There's posters on the improv team and like worship ones for morning devotional and all the religious groups," said Shanice Powell.

Wiens said he won't give up until his rights are respected.

On Wednesday, Randy Hildebrand, chairman of the Hanover board, promised its schools would accommodate and support any student who wants to form a gay-straight alliance.

Hanover trustees had the discussion about GSAs a year ago, Hildebrand said.

That's when a student came forward wishing to form a GSA in one of the high schools, though he wouldn't say if it was in Steinbach, Grunthal, Landmark or Niverville.

"We said we would accommodate it," Hildebrand said. "They did meet a couple of times."

Hildebrand said the GSA was not met with a negative reaction, but has not been active recently: "It was more that the individual was not willing to take a leadership role."

Hanover will provide space in school, and there are teachers willing to volunteer as supervisors, for any GSA request from students, he said.

As with any student group meeting in schools, a GSA would have to "promote a positive learning environment," said Hildebrand.

A protest meeting against Bill 18 drew 1,200 people in Steinbach on the weekend.

Hildebrand acknowledged there are mixed feelings about Bill 18 in southeastern Manitoba.

The region, sometimes referred to as the province's Bible Belt, has a number of towns with strong faith-based traditions.

 

-- The Canadian Press, with staff files

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2013 A9

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