Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Two reactionary far-right lobbying groups – Campaign Life Coalition and Parents As First Educators – sought to intervene in the Halton Catholic School Board’s consideration on whether to fly the rainbow flag outside its schools for Pride Month.
On Tuesday night, HCDSB trustee Brenda Agnew’s motion to raise the flag passed with five to three in favour.
In an email sent to Halton-region parents ahead of Tuesday’s vote, CLC President Jeff Gunnarson implored readers to contact the chair of HCDSB, Trustee Marvin Duarte, and “urge him to vote against the homosexualization of the HCDSB by opposing the flying of the sin-emblazoned Gay Pride Flag.”
Gunnarson also called for Duarte to “act courageously, as a soldier of Christ, against those who detest Catholic teaching on sexual morality.”
Continuing his warfare framing of the issue, he wrote, “Safeguarding our children from the clutches of LGBT activists demands that we not sit back and allow them to raise their flag of gay conquest over a vital arm of the Catholic Church.”
Responding to the motion’s passing, CLC youth coordinator and LifeSiteNews contributor Josie Luetke tweeted, “The board has been conquered by Satan. It is bragging about flying the flag of the Church’s enemy and tempting all to sin.”
The day before the vote, CLC tweeted a graphic, including their watermark, of a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote that declares “now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children.”
Parents as First Educators, a far-right group claiming to be “the largest parent group in Ontario,” which largely focused on combating progressive curriculum, policies, and procedures in schools, took a slightly different approach in its efforts to sway the board’s vote. In an email to Halton-area recipients on its mailing list, PAFE, which claims to represent 80,000 supporters, wrote that they were “looking for people who are willing to speak as delegates'' at the January 18 HCDSB meeting, during which the Pride flag raising will be put to a vote.
PAFE also recently called upon its supporters to contact HCDSB trustees regarding a single webpage on the board’s site, entitled “Anti-Racism;” instructing Halton-area parents to “tell them that the concepts of ‘critical race theory’ are themselves racist and have no business being promoted at the board.”
Both CLC and PAFE do not limit their lobbying to Catholic school boards. CLC’s voting guide includes ratings for public school board trustees, as well as their Catholic counterparts. PAFE’s calls to action have included items exclusively affecting specific public schools and boards.
“There is a direct connection between these hate groups and their influence on various school board trustees across the country,” said Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, executive director of the human rights and equity advocacy non-profit Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity. “This is extremely concerning since there is no national-wide coordination on education policy, making it so much easier for these folks to bring Republican-inspired tactics to school communities.”
Before Tuesday’s vote, the board received six delegations in support of the motion, including from the presidents of elementary and secondary school teachers in Halton, former students, parents of HCDSB students, and a retired Catholic priest. Only two delegations spoke against the motion.
Last year, HCDSB refused to vote on a similar motion to raise the rainbow flag for Pride Month, instead passing a motion to implement “mandatory training for senior staff on supporting LGBTQ students, to raise awareness around Pride month, and to post ‘safe space poster signage’ at schools.”
Halton Parents for Change, a grassroots group of parents concerned about equity issues in HCDSB, attributed the board’s passing of the motion to raise the flag for Pride Month, to more community members “becoming aware of groups like the CLC and PAFE and… realizing there is a huge need to openly fight against them in order to preserve the loving and inclusive community that the rest of us so value.”
While this is undoubtedly a win for those fighting to see the Pride flag flown above the region's schools, there remains some cause for concern.
“The real story here is how Campaign Life Coalition is putting their money and megaphone into fighting against human rights and safety for queer kids,” Fae Johnstone, executive director of Wisdom2Action, a consulting firm specializing in anti-oppression and inclusion, said to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network in a statement. “Their influence in Ontario schools merits a deeper investigation.”
Campaign Life Coalition and Parents As First Educators did not respond to requests for comment.