A Toronto comedian claims she was booked by a local Catholic high school to perform at a homophobia awareness event, only to be dropped from the bill after the school board learned of her gay marriage.
Dawn Whitwell said she was removed from the list of performers for the June 6 event at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School after a member of the Toronto Catholic District School Board searched her name online and discovered she was married to a woman.
“I was invited to perform comedy … basically, my regular stand-up set plus some light references to growing up in a Catholic environment,” Whitwell said.
“Then a member of the board Googled me, found out I have a wife, and the decision was made to drop me.”
Whitwell received an e-mail stating that the board had rescinded its offer due to her “affiliation to gay marriage.”
“I laughed, because I was told it was a function geared at curbing gay intolerance.”
Whitwell, who grew up Catholic, is a highly regarded performer on the Canadian comedy scene.
Emmy Milne, manager of communications for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, denied the school’s student event centred on addressing homophobia, calling it instead an event “to reinforce strategies for anti-bullying.”
As to why Whitwell’s services were no longer needed, Milne explained, “After looking at her information online and realizing she was a comedian, the board felt it would not be a good fit because they wanted to tackle the subject matter in a very serious manner.”
Milne would not comment on Whitwell’s claim that a second comedian invited to perform wasn’t dropped from the line-up.
The event was organized by a school dance teacher who had long pushed for a day to address intolerance, specifically of gay teens, Whitwell said.
“The decision wasn’t hers,” she said. “She felt really awful the higher-ups took me off the bill.”
When contacted, the instructor declined to comment on the incident.
Ontario’s Catholic school system is publicly funded, which Whitwell feels can often place religious values in direct opposition of public policy.
“Many Ontario Catholic school are functioning on a belief that homosexuality is unacceptable,” Whitwell said. “Yet the province, which pays for these schools to run, has strict laws against this very kind of discrimination. How do you reconcile those two things?”
An administrative member of the Toronto Catholic school system, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there is concern in the school community over a controversial board vote set for June 16.
The board is considering amendments to its equity and inclusive education policy, passed in May, which would guarantee its denominational rights “take precedence” over human rights protection.
“Several outspoken board members want to pass an amendment that would make it easier for action to be taken on events – and even staff and student opinions – they feel are ‘against Catholic values.’ This makes me very nervous,” the administrator said.
Update: The second comedian invited to participate in the event, Mae Martin, confirmed Whitwell's account.