A Catholic school district in Ontario, Canada, has pulled funding from a musical production about a gay student’s struggle for equality in Catholic education, though the reasons for withdrawing the funds are not what one would expect.
In January, the London District Catholic School Board, as well as the public Thames Valley District School Board, pulled a combined $30,000 in funding from Prom Queen: The Musical. This withdrawal is the first time in two decades that the school boards have not funded a local theater program that gives experience to high school students. The Globe and Mail reported:
“The musical is based on the story of Marc Hall, a student from Oshawa, Ont., who took the Durham Catholic District School Board to court and won a legal battle in 2002 to bring his partner to his school’s prom. . .
“Ed De Decker, superintendent of education at the London Catholic school board, said young students may not necessarily have the experience or maturity to contextualize the play. He added that students need to understand that teachers and principals now are approachable, and would act with care and compassion.
“‘The script really feeds on dated stereotypes,’ Mr. De Decker said. ‘Unfortunately, we don’t feel that it really represents the kind of persons that we know work in our schools. So we don’t want to perpetuate that stereotype with our students.'”
Chair of the Thames Valley District School Board, Matt Reid, echoed these concerns about widening the gap between students and educators, and also expressed concerns about profanity in the script. Reid added, “I myself am the first openly gay chair of a school board in Canada. It’s not a situation of not supporting [the musical] because of the LGBT content. It is how everything is being portrayed that is a concern.”
The musical’s subject, Marc Hall, said the performance was not about portraying educators negatively, but about encouraging students to “stand up for themselves in the face of discrimination” and “hold organizations accountable.”
Since the controversy broke, the Thames Valley board has since restored its funding, reported CBC, and a crowdfunding effort has raised nearly $60,000 to support the theater. The Catholic board has said it will not reverse its decision. The Prom Queen production will involve some 80 students, and the school boards have said students are still able to participate and teachers are free to attend with their classes.
Though Catholic educators’ statements suggest a particular concern that LGBTQ students see educators as people who will be supportive resources rather than discriminatory foes, withdrawing funding was not the correct decision. Officials with London Catholic School District Board should have continued funding the play, and then used it as an opportunity to have a conversation about how Catholic education has and is changing when it comes to LGBT inclusion. The controversy that resulted from the funding withdrawal only hurts officials’ efforts for inclusion, and makes the school system seem as if it is still hostile to LGBTQ issues.
Once again, Catholic officials will hopefully learn that suppressing speech and expression is never the right call. It is unfortunate students are harmed in the meantime.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 10, 2018