Catholic parish accused of denying venue rental for White Rock Pride Society fundraiser

Click to play video 'Battle over venue for pride celebration in White Rock' Battle over venue for pride celebration in White Rock
WATCH: Battle over venue for pride celebration in White Rock – Apr 1, 2019

The president of the White Rock Pride Society (WRPS) says a local Catholic parish will not rent its community centre to the society for an upcoming Pride fundraising event.

“All we wanted was for a venue that was advertised to the community to be open to the community,” Ernie Klassen said.

The WRPS applied to rent the community centre run by the Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Parish for a July 27 fundraiser. The date and time they provided, Klassen said, were available but they were turned down allegedly because they do not follow the morals and principles of the Catholic church.

Another venue has offered to host the event, but Klassen said it’s not large enough to accommodate their guests. The parish’s community centre, he said, is a larger venue that is better suited to their needs.

The proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the Alexandra Neighbourhood House, which operates programs for LGBTQ seniors and youth in South Surrey.

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In an email, Paul Schratz, the communications director for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, confirmed that the parish community centre turned down the society for its annual Pride fundraiser this summer. The archdiocese declined to comment further on the complaint.

Meghan McDermott, a lawyer with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, described the complaint as a prima facie case of discrimination but there may be an exemption for a religious organization. However, McDermott added, if the parish has rented the community centre to other organizations that don’t fall under the faith and morals of Catholicism, then the parish will have a much harder time defending its case.

Klassen said the decision made him feel like he’s still not an equal member of society.

“They made the gay community into a different community, into a separate segment of society and we have fought long and hard to be included in society,” he added.

Klassen said the society is exploring all of its options. He has not threatened a lawsuit but hasn’t taken it off the table either.

“We knew the facility was there,” he said. “As a matter of fact, a number of us in our group have been to functions at that facility and liked it. We were not expecting this response and we were not expecting to go down this road.”