The decision of whether or not to fly Pride flags during the month of June has roiled many Catholic school districts in Canada for several years. This year has witnessed many school boards allowing such flags, though some resistance remains.
On a positive note, a number of districts will allow Pride displays for the first time this year. These include the Superior North Catholic District School Board and the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, whose officials recently voted 6-3 to allow flags, according to National Observer. The Conseil scolaire de district catholique des Aurores boréales and the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board, will also fly flags, reported Country 105.
Additionally, two districts reversed previous decisions not to allow Pride flags, the Halton Catholic District School Board and the Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board. For a full listing of which Catholic school districts in Canada are celebrating Pride, by flying flags or other activities, click here.
However, resistance to Pride displays during June remains in some areas.
The Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board denied a request from high school students at St. John’s College (a secondary school) to fly a Pride flag and have a solidarity lawn sign. The Beacon Herald reported on comments made by an unnamed student critical of the decision, who also said the board denied the school permission to tweet any Pride messages:
“‘The fact that we are in 2022 and there is controversy over a flag that represents that members of the LGBTQIA+ deserve rights, just as any other person in our community, is ridiculous,’ said the student, adding that it is hurtful to the queer community that not only belongs and has a place within the school board district, but more importantly, is safe and supported.
“The student said there is a large queer population in the Catholic school board that is tired of being told ‘no’ without an explanation.”
Officials with the district board defended their decision not to fly the Pride flag by pointing to other areas of support for LGBTQ+ students, as well as indicating the flag policy was being reviewed. Rick Petrella, the board’s chair, commented:
“‘[T]here are many instances where the Pride flag is displayed in some of our schools to acknowledge and support Pride Month and to support our 2SLGBTQIA+ students. . .
“‘We prioritize our commitment to ensuring inclusive, diverse, equitable and welcoming teaching and learning environments for all groups. . .This has, again, been woven into the board’s most recent strategic plan, which ensures … the funding of initiatives and supports for students and staff who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+, and of course inclusion for all.'”
Tracey Austin, a spokesperson for the board, refused to comment on the flag issue, instead identifying other affirming activities this month like positive messages being posted in gender-neutral restrooms and chalked on the parking lot.
But even as progress is made in recognizing Pride in Canada’s Catholic schools, fallout from previous disputes over flags may continue. The National Observer reported:
“Advocates are now actively campaigning against the re-election of trustees who opposed the [Pride] measure and other progressive policy efforts.
“‘For the upcoming election in October, we are committed to working to help elect forward-thinking candidates who are focused on student achievement, well-being, and safety,’ said Alex Power, a representative of the group Halton Parents for Change. ‘We vehemently reject candidates who come to the table with alternate, right-wing agendas, as we have seen numerous times this past term.'”
It is unfortunate that a simple, supportive gesture like displaying a Pride flag has led to years of controversy in Canada’s publicly-funded Catholic schools. Each time there are struggles over signaling inclusion, students—LGBTQ+ and otherwise—are harmed and communities are divided. Despite lingering setbacks, the momentum towards honoring Pride in Canadian Catholic education seems to have shifted in a positive direction. Hopefully, an end to these disputes is in sight.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, June 18, 2022