World’s Largest Publicly-Funded Catholic School System Set to Fly Pride Flags This June

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 reported on one Canadian Catholic school district’s decision not to fly the Pride flag this June. But in a more affirming and perhaps more significant decision the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) will celebrate Pride Month by flying rainbow flags this June.

CBC reported that at the end of an hours-long meeting, TCDSB trustees voted to fly Pride flags outside all of the district’s schools and offices this year and every year going forward:

“The school board said in a statement this ‘important step’ demonstrates its commitment to fostering safe and welcoming places for LGBTQ students and staff.

“While more advocacy work needs to be done for LGBTQ students, the board’s support is a step in the right direction,  student trustee Keith Baybayon told CBC News.

“‘Knowing that the board recognizes Pride Month and will fly the Pride flag is just so encouraging for students like me because it feels like we’re being included in the conversations and thought about,’ he said.

“Kathy Nguyen, also a student trustee, said she hopes the victory will have a ‘ripple effect’ and inspire other school boards to follow Toronto’s lead.”

During the meeting preceding the vote, several prominent community members testified in favor of marking Pride. These included Kristyn Wong-Tam, chair of Toronto’s LGBTQ+ advisory committee, and Kathleen Wynne, former premier of Ontario. Wynne urged for a “clear signal” to be sent for inclusion, saying:

“‘Your position as the largest Catholic School Board in the province is one that I think comes with the responsibility to play a leadership role especially when it comes to those issues that continue to divide the Catholic community.'”

The decision in Toronto was not without controversy. Trustee Michael Del Grande, who was sanctioned by TCDSB last year over his comparison of LGBTQ issues to bestiality, pedophilia, and cannabalism, added to his negative record by responding to the decision saying, “I will not bend at the knee to appease. . .I will not go into schism or apostasy, and I will not lead children astray.”

The Archdiocese of Toronto did not take an explicit position, but seemed to warn against flying Pride flags. A “Reflection on Inclusivity and Acceptance” was released by the archdiocese after Cardinal Thomas Collins met with school officials early in 2021 to discuss the Pride issue. This reflection did recognize people are marginalized because of sexual orientation, but seemed to suggest the Cross was a more appropriate symbol than a Pride flag. That reflection reads, in part:

“In that regard, the appropriate symbol that represents our faith, and the inclusion and acceptance of others, is the cross, which is visible at the entrance of every Catholic school. . .

“We also recognize that there are times when the presentation of Catholic teaching will clash with the views held by many in society, whether these relate to human sexuality, the sanctity of life, issues of social justice or other deeply held beliefs. Those who are faithful to these teachings are often ridiculed, mocked and excluded. Frequently, since the time of Jesus, Christian teaching has not aligned with currently prevailing opinions.

“To be clear, locally elected Catholic school trustees will ultimately determine the path forward, but we trust that these insights will be helpful. We pray that we may all reflect on these challenging conversations and do so in a spirit of collaboration, mutual respect and care for one another.”

In a previous correspondence to Toronto’s Catholic school community, Cardinal Collins suggested that June would better be marked by a celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, though avoided specifically mentioning Pride.

Relatedly, last month, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, Ontario, also affirmed flying Pride flags at district schools, reported CBC.  Such a move is a semi-reversal of the Board’s previous position. In 2020, the Waterloo district opted to fly an alternative flag in June that had Christ portrayed with rainbow figures and text that read “We are all wonderfully made.” Many critics felt this step was insufficient. The Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board flew Pride flags last year.

TCDSB oversees the world’s largest publicly-funded Catholic school system with more than 90,000 students, making this recent decision quite significant. Roxanne Speers, who has a child in Toronto’s Catholic schools, spoke about the decision’s impact:

“‘My daughter, 4 almost 5 years old has started school for the first time. I want her to be able to walk into school every day going forward, with the same smile on her face that she has now, and know that among all of the pressures she faces, that in this day and age, how she was born will not be one of them — whether that be her race, gender, or sexual orientation.'”

And, rather than watering down the schools’ Catholic faith, Toronto Star columnist Emma Teitel offered the following commentary:

“Anti-Pride trustees worry the TCDSB is becoming less authentically Catholic. Yet nearly every person who spoke in favour of raising the rainbow flag on Thursday night — from parents to students to trustees — spoke from a place of deep faith. (If I had to guess, I would say that religious scripture was quoted as often, if not more often, on the pro-Pride side of the aisle than on the anti-Pride side.)

“I’m an outsider, but it seems to me that the TCDSB isn’t becoming less authentically Catholic, it’s simply interpreting religious texts in a way that recognizes and celebrates the dignity of all human beings.”

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 19, 2021

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