By Jane Switzer -
TORONTO — A Toronto comedian says her invitation to perform at a Catholic high school was revoked after board officials learned she is a lesbian.
Dawn Whitwell, who addresses homophobia in her material, said a teacher invited her in late May to be part of an anti-homophobia event that took place Tuesday at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School.
Last Thursday, the teacher told her not to come. Whitwell said a school board member searched her name on the Internet and learned she is married to a woman, or, as she said she was told, has an "affiliation to gay marriage." Whitwell, who attended Catholic high school, found the phrase laughable.
"I was telling people about it, because it was funny," she said. "Then I was getting angry that they can still do this kind of thing. Not so much for me performing there, but you've got to be kidding me — I thought the tide was turning in '87."
Emmy Szekeres Milne, a spokeswoman for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said the school was planning an event to focus on anti-bullying strategies, not anti-homophobia, and that Whitwell had been considered as a possible speaker, but was never officially slated to attend. "Staff who were organizing the event reviewed the individual's online information, and felt that because of the serious nature of the topics being discussed, this person would not be a good fit for their program," she said, adding that the school's event was successful.
Ontario's Catholic school system has been struggling to fulfil the province's directive to address anti-bullying and homophobia within its schools while at the same time uphold the church's stance against homosexuality.
In January, the Halton Catholic District School Board came under fire for banning gay-straight alliance clubs. The board has since agreed to neither approve nor ban gay-straight groups. Most recently, the organizer of an unofficial anti-homophobia club at St. Joseph's Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga told Toronto's gay and lesbian newspaper Xtra! that students were banned from using rainbows to promote the school's Social Justice Week because of their association with gay pride. Gay-straight alliances are banned at Toronto Catholic District School Board schools.
Ever the comedian, Whitwell said she did not take the snub personally. She said she might incorporate the experience into her material, but does not plan to take any action against the school. "What action could I take? To make them let me perform there to a captive audience? There's nothing for me to do other than to support the larger issue at hand."