On Campus

Manitoba school may allow posters for gay alliance

Teen fought to promote club

Evan Wiens, the teenager who has become a focal point for gay rights in Manitoba schools, may have a wish come true for his birthday.

Wiens, who turned 17 on Tuesday, met behind closed doors with the board of the Hanover School Division and asked to be allowed to put up posters at his school to promote a gay-straight alliance group he set up last year.

“I seem to be hopefully convincing some board members. Some seemed a little bit intimidating but the meeting generally went pretty good,” Wiens said after the hearing Tuesday night.

Board superintendent Randy Dueck said a decision had been made following the hearing, but it won’t be divulged until the board talks to Wiens again on Wednesday afternoon.

Dueck also refused to comment on why Wiens was allowed to establish a gay-straight alliance at Steinbach Regional Secondary School but barred from promoting it.

Wiens, an outgoing, energetic teen, has become something of an icon for those trying to promote acceptance of gays and lesbians as part of the NDP government’s proposed anti-bullying law.

During recent television interviews on the streets of the small city southeast of Winnipeg, Wiens was taunted by some of his peers as cameras rolled. He is often the subject of slurs at school, he said, including one incident Monday when he tried to put up a gay-straight alliance poster.

“I was called a really nasty name … but it just empowered me more because I thought, ‘you know what, that’s the reason I’m fighting for this and I don’t want someone who is just coming out of their shell to be called that.'”

Someone took down the poster within an hour. Wiens said he will continue, with or without school permission.

Months ago, the school told Wiens no student groups were allowed to put up posters, he said.

“But there are posters for all sorts of groups, you know, the knitting group,” he said.

While Wiens’s public school has accommodated a gay-straight alliance, even if posters have been forbidden, some private religious schools in the area have vowed to not allow the groups. They say Bill 18, which would force schools to let students set up gay-straight alliances, is a violation of freedom of religion because it runs contrary to their faith.

The bill is expected to become law by summer, but must first undergo public hearings.

Manitoba is one of several provinces that have moved to crack down on bullying since the suicide last year of Amanda Todd, a British Columbia teenager who was sexually exploited online.

Like Ontario’s experience last year, the debate in Manitoba has focused on gay-straight alliances and whether religious schools should be forced to accept them. Overshadowed by the religious debate have been concerns that the bill may have little real impact on bullying in general. The legislation leaves principals and other school officials to decide what, if any, punishment should be handed out, whether victims’ parents should be notified and more.

Wiens says he has received a lot of support. He’s received messages from Manitoba Education Minister Nancy Allan, comedian Rick Mercer and others. But he is not after notoriety — he simply wants to help other students.

“I want to see a strong group there so people can feel accepted and it can be known around the school that if you have a problem … they can help you out.”

—Steve Lambert

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