Non-Binary Student Leads Movement to Fly Rainbow Flags at Catholic Schools This June

Nic Hotchkiss

Whether and how to mark Pride Month in Canada’s Catholic schools has been a point of contention in past years, and 2021 has been no different. Today and tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will look at how two different Catholic school systems responded to requests to fly Pride flags.

Trustees of the Halton Catholic District School Board, Ontario, recently rejected a non-binary student’s request for Catholic schools in the district to fly the Pride flag this June.

Nic Hotchkiss, a Grade 12 student at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Secondary School, began their effort as part of a school project, the National Observer reported. Hotchkiss “didn’t feel seen as a queer student at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Secondary School in Oakville, so when their class was invited to pick a social justice project to develop at the start of the school year, they asked if the school could fly the Pride flag.”

According to the National Observer:

“While the principal was supportive, he said anything visible on the outside of the school would have to be approved by Halton Catholic District School Board, kicking off a fraught debate that … culminated in a setback for Hotchkiss and other students, parents and teachers pushing for a more fulsome embrace of LGBTQ+ students and staff.

“A motion to raise the rainbow flag during June, Pride Month, at all the board’s schools and its administrative building and to put up posters in each of the board’s classrooms declaring them safe spaces was denied after more than three and a half hours of debate on Monday night, with several trustees putting up procedural obstacles and proposing amendments that went as far as to completely erase its original wording.”

However, the board did take a few steps towards supporting LGBTQ students:

“The Halton board ultimately agreed to recognize Pride Month — making it the 11th of 29 English-language Catholic school boards in Ontario to do so — and to put up one poster about inclusion per school. It also said it would mandate staff training and education on the topic, raise community awareness, and ensure resources and supports are in place for students in each of its schools.”

The Pride flag measure garnered strong community support, receiving close to 100 letters about the controversy, most from people who wanted the flag flown.

Kirsten Kelly, one of three student trustees on the board, said:

“‘We want to make sure that students know they are supported. Even if the ones that are sitting in power right now have shown their ugliness and have shown their bigotry and hatred, there is a greater community that loves them and supports them no matter what.'”

Following the board meeting, all nine Catholic high schools in the Halton Catholic School District expressed support for queer students on social media, CBC reported. A post from Assumption Catholic Secondary School said:

“’Whoever walks thru our doors is part of our community. As a community we are here to love and serve all of God’s children. We want all students and staff to know that Assumption is a safe and inclusive place.'”

The post was accompanied by a rainbow version of the Assumption logo.

The students who promoted raising the Pride flag drew on Catholic values like social justice to advocate for fellow queer students.  Though they did not achieve their goal, their campaign could have a lasting impact on the Catholic school district because of the supportive statements and measures the controversy evoked.

Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will report on a Canadian Catholic school district that made a more affirming decision when it comes to Pride Month.

To have tomorrow’s post and all the latest Catholic LGBTQ news updates delivered to your inbox each day, click here to subscribe to Bondings 2.0

Mac Svolos, New Ways Ministry, May 17, 2021

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