An Increasing Number of Canadian Catholic School Districts Opt to Fly Pride Flags

Readers of Bondings 2.0 will recount how, year after year, disputes arise in Canada’s publicly-funded Catholic school districts about whether and how to recognize Pride Month each June. Many of these disputes center around flying rainbow flags. Thankfully, this year more districts have taken the positive step of choosing to do so, though not all.

Ontario’s Durham Catholic District School Board voted 6-2 in late May that the district’s schools would fly a Pride flag each June henceforth. In advance of the vote 150-plus people offered comments, including one key administrator who spoke movingly about why the decision to fly the flag is so important. The Toronto Star reported:

“Tracy Barill, director of education for the DCDSB, called the issue ‘perhaps the most complex and also potentially the most impactful decision that I have ever placed before you’ and spoke about the tensions that exist within the Catholic church on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“‘I am a person of faith, I have been raised in this very Catholic school system. My faith and my life experience has ingrained in me deep understanding of the importance of love and belonging,’ Barill told trustees, saying a sense of belonging comes after food, water and shelter on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. ‘All of our students deserve to feel loved and welcomed in our Catholic schools.'”

Another comment from Rae Paul, a 2015 LGBTQ alum of the district’s schools, spoke to the impact Pride visibility could have:

“‘I had internalized many horrific meanings of what it meant to be queer, and gender non-conforming. I truly believed that the reason I did not see people like me represented in my school was because I was not welcome. . .I believe that representation and celebration of my personhood as a queer kid would have saved me from years of internalized shame, hatred and suffering.'”

According to CBC, Ontario Catholic schools in the following districts will fly Pride flags include Dufferin-Peel, Niagara, Ottawa, Toronto, Waterloo, and Wellington. Previously, Bondings 2.0 reported on the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s decision to do so, which is significant given that district is the world’s largest publicly-funded Catholic education system.

Beyond flying flags, CityNews reports that at least 16 of 37 publicly-funded districts in the Ontario province will mark Pride formally in some manner. Summing up why this is all so important are comments from Brendan Browne, the director of education for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, who told CBC:

“‘If this [flying a Pride flag] is something that makes even one student feel safe and feel included, this is something we’re committed to doing. . .If it makes a difference for even one student, it’s something that we’re really proud of.'”

But resistance persists, including concerns expressed by church officials. In May, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board declined to fly Pride flags given its policy that only the Canadian flag is flown, and a preference for the Cross as a sign of inclusion. The board’s chair, Pat Daly, told CBC that the Cross is more fitting for Christians, even while acknowledging that LGBTQ students should be supported.

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board made a similar statement recently, and the Halton Catholic School District Board decided against flying a flag this spring.

Archbishop Marcel Damphousse of Ottawa-Cornwall sided with those criticizing the flying of Pride flags at Catholic schools. CBC reported:

“Damphousse says schools must be inclusive and ensure all students feel welcome, but argues that the Pride flag can represent a ‘lifestyle’ not condoned by the Church.

“‘For them to say, “Well, I want to live a life according to what the gay Pride flag and movement promotes and says,” well, I’m sorry, but that’s not in line with our Catholic teaching.'”

Unfortunately, on the question of Pride, the archbishop is incorrect. Pride month celebrates living authentically as the people God created us to be, not some nebulous “lifestyle” apparently condemned by the church. Rainbow flags, as an expression of support and love, especially for vulnerable youth, are very much in line with Catholic teaching. Educator Brendan Browne, quoted above, understands that such efforts to acknowledge Pride are worth it even if they impact only a single student. The reality is, however, the Catholic schools’ decision to mark Pride Month will positively impact thousands of LGBTQ students, as well as those who have LGBTQ family members and friends. It is time for such disputes to come to end.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 7, 2021

4 replies
  1. Tim
    Tim says:

    What is it with a rainbow? Perhaps our bishops need reminding that the rainbow is a powerful symbol in scripture of God’s covenant with God’s people. Rainbows are often referred to readings in our Eucharistic and other liturgies.

    • Thomas Ellison
      Thomas Ellison says:

      It wouldn’t matter if it was a rainbow or a unicorn or a fire breathing parakeet. It is the idea of it. The rainbow is a globally occuring meteorological event, therefore an apt symbol.

  2. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    Perhaps the second quote says it all. “I am a person of faith and I was raised in this very Catholic school system.” Whether through our decision or that of our Godparents we are gathered to the Church, but before that time our nature at LGBT or straight was marked within our bodies with no choice of our own, but God’s. To raise a flag that honors our status one month a year doesn’t seem like too much to be given to celebrate that gift. That it is a rainbow flag that shows we are part of the agreement that God is our God and we are God’s people should be something under which everyone wants to be covered.

  3. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    The occasional story or news item about some bishop extending his hand to the LGBT community is undone by those of a meaner persuasion. This is less and less about ‘theology’ and more and more about what it means to actually attempt to be a Christian.
    Clearly some of the clergy have misinterpreted their role. In their defense, it may be a learned behavior. If flying a rainbow flag for a month is so distressing to some, take a few weeks off and have a full examination of conscience. Memo to (some) clergy : You are not here to cause fear or anxiety.


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