Ontario’s Education Minister Backs Effort to Fly Pride Flags at Province’s Catholic Schools

Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce

Ontario’s education minister and a leading Canadian newspaper have publicly defended the flying of Pride flags and other supports for LGBTQ+ students in the province’s Catholic schools after a heated dispute on the issue last month.

As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, police were called to disperse protestors at a meeting of the York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) in April at which there was discussion of whether the district should fly Pride flags at its facilities in June. Asked about the incident, Ontario’s Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, affirmed the need to support LGBTQ+ youth. The Toronto Star reported:

“‘I think school boards, parents, educators, government — we’ve got to come together, we’ve got to depoliticize an issue that is actually about the mental health and safety of children,’ [Lecce] said. ‘I do hope that school boards will continue to celebrate Pride in a constructive, positive way.’

“Lecce said raising the Pride flag is ‘a tradition that’s been done by all levels of government, all politicians of all stripes for many years. I think it’s something that’s done to send a signal of respect and inclusion, and I would welcome that in publicly funded schools.'”

The editorial board of The Toronto Star added its support for flying Pride flags after what it described as a “shameful scene” at the YCDSB meeting. The editorial continued:

“How else to describe adults who appeared to hurl insults at those in favour of flying the flag? In a video clip shared widely by various news outlets, shouts of ‘shame’ and ‘devil incarnate’ were hurled at an advocate on the pro side of the flag debate. The scene became so tense police were called and security reportedly escorted some of the spectators away. . .

“It is also derivative of a certain brand of anti-LGBTQ politics we commonly associate with the United States. But if last week’s events at the Catholic school board in York Region teach us anything, let it be that Canada is not immune to public displays of hateful rhetoric. These displays may be less common here but even in small doses they are potent. And it is up to all of us — Catholic school board officials and community members alike not to be complacent in the face of them. . .

“It seems a reminder is in order about why Pride celebrations are necessary in schools. Flying the Pride flag isn’t a hollow act of virtue signalling; it is an official declaration of support for marginalized kids who desperately need it.

“Two things can be true at once: that we have made enormous progress as a society when it comes to inclusion — and that we haven’t made nearly enough.

“This is why it is critical that schools fly the Pride flag: to signal to kids that even if their peers or their parents reject them because of their identity, the school itself — and those at its helm — do not.

“We sincerely hope for the sake of every child that York Region’s Catholic school board finds the courage to join the celebration.”

In a related, disturbing note, the Star also reported that anti-LGBTQ+ protestors had targeted a teacher advocating for greater inclusion in Ontario’s Catholic schools, Paolo De Buono:

“Two days later [after the YCDSB meeting in April], a small group of protesters showed up in Toronto outside St. Antoine Daniel Catholic School, where de Buono teaches Grade 7 and 8. The board said students remained indoors during recess and lunch to avoid protesters and that measures were in place to ensure minimal disruption. Police were also called and remained on site to monitor the situation.

“‘It’s very misguided. Clearly, their target is me,’ de Buono told the Star on Monday. ‘To show up that way and have such anti-inclusive messages, like the rainbow has been perverted, is going to hurt students.'”

Maria Rizzo, a trustee for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, commented on this incident:

“[T]here’s got to be consequences for people who are hate-spewers … This is unacceptable. They say that they’re there for the kids, but they’re not.'”

LGBTQ+ students in Catholic schools, including in Ontario’s publicly-funded districts, deserve not only to see Pride flags at their schools, but to be fully supported so they can thrive. This need is only more necessary given the recent disruptions and stalking by anti-LGBTQ+ protestors in the province.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, May 10, 2023

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