Controversy over LGBT issues in one of Canada’s Catholic school systems has once again made headlines, resulting in unfortunate harm during Pride celebrations.
To mark Pride, students at Blessed Oscar Romero High School in Edmonton, Alberta, hung a rainbow flag in the school with some additional rainbow decorations. The next day, students drew a rainbow flag in chalk at the school’s entrance. CBC reported what happened next:
“On Tuesday morning, student president-elect Francis Nievera was called into the principal’s office. He said he was told all the decorations must come down because the chalk was being tracked inside, which he said was understandable. But those weren’t the only reasons.
“‘They said putting up flags was a political statement and it made some people uncomfortable and we need to make everyone feel comfortable,’ said Nievera, an openly transsexual and transgender Grade 10 student. ‘To have it all torn down in less than a day kind of sucked.'”
Lori Nagy of the Edmonton Catholic School Board denied claims the decorations were authorized, and said the school’s principal was willing to support other pride celebrations. Nonetheless, Nievera’s invitation, students protested, according to the CBC:
“Prior to the protest, a video shows an emotional Nievera, near a handful of supporters including the school mascot, address students from the stage in the school cafeteria.
“‘We have to take down all the decorations today,’ he said, setting off boos from the crowd. ‘But I just want to say because of this I really don’t feel safe.'”
“‘If you guys want to help support pride week, even though all of this will be taken down, feel free to come outside and protest.'”
Students gathered at the chalk rainbow flag as other students used power washers to remove it. According to the CBC, “More than 30 students refused to return to class.”
Kennedy Harper, who helped organize the school’s Pride celebrations, said administrators threatened protesting students with suspension. She commented further:
“‘It seems like along with the chalk they were just washing away their identity. . .It felt really good for a little while, seeing the school really come together and standing up for the rights of minorities whether they’re part of the LGBTQ community or not.'”
Shortly after all the decorations had been removed , school administrators then said that the flags would be allowed for the remainder of the week.
This is hardly the first time Edmonton’s Catholic school system has been roiled in LGBT-related controversies. A student at the neighboring St. Joseph Catholic High School was also asked to remove a rainbow flag he wore during a school ceremony. The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s actions in 2015 around a transgender policy saw meetings erupt into a “shouting match” as the Board approved a draft policy allowing “just discrimination” of some youth. Elsewhere in Alberta, a former bishop referred to LGBTQ policies being implemented in Catholic schools “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.”
The situation at Blessed Oscar Romero adds to this list of avoidable, damaging incidents where LGBTQ students are made to feel less than comfortable and even unsafe in Catholic education. No harm was caused by allowing some minor Pride decorations to be displayed, but much harm was done by power washing them and ripping them away.
Once again, it is young students in Catholic schools who are the ones leading our church to be more just and inclusive for LGBT people. And of these students’ commitment to justice for all people, Monseñor Romero would likely be very proud.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 19, 2017