Canadian Anti-Hate Network
An Ontario Catholic school district has rejected the recommendations of its own sub-committee and voted to prohibit flying the Pride flag.
The York Catholic District School Board trustees voted six to four against a May 29 motion to raise a Pride flag at the district’s Catholic Education Centre during the month of June.
Trustees Theresa McNicol, Joseph DiMeo, Angela Saggese, and Michaela Barbieri, voted against the motion, including chair and vice-chair, Frank Alexander and Maria Iafrate respectively.
Trustees Carol Cotton, Elizabeth Crowe, Angela Grella, and Jennifer Wigston voted to raise the Pride flag.
The issue arose after vocal objections to teachers using “safe space” stickers to mark their classrooms in February. Two students took it upon themselves to start a petition asking for the flag to be raised outside district administration buildings.
“During the 28 February 2023 board meeting, we as Catholics were challenged to question our values following speeches of homophobia, transphobia, and sexism,” the petition reads. “As a result, many students, teachers, and parents have been harmed, and it is the duty of the YCDSB to create a safe and welcoming environment.”
Calling the flying of the flag an opportunity to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion, the petition notes that Toronto, Hamilton-Wentworth, Halton, Ottawa, and Waterloo Catholic District School Boards already chose to hoist the flag.
The issue has been a source of contention between the board and the public for months. In April, attendees opposed to raising the flag began shouting during the meeting and refused to leave the building until police arrived, according to CP24,
The vote also goes against the recommendations of a sub-committee set up to explore the issue.
“The Flag And Symbols sub-committee recommends that the YCDSB fly a Rainbow Flag, specifically the Progress Pride Flag, during the month of June at the Catholic Education Centre,” said a report included in the meeting’s agenda.
The committee notes that flying symbols of support for 2SLGBTQ+ students does not undermine the position that “any and all symbols associated with Christ do indeed remain at the forefront at YCDSB.” The report specifies that raising the flag does not diminish the religious significance of the month of June, which celebrates the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
After the vote, organizations that advocate for 2SLGBTQ+ rights reacted swiftly.
“The board of trustees are simply incapable of fostering an environment in which marginalized communities feel a strong sense of belonging as evident by their own actions from the last two months alone,” a statement from Pflag said after the meeting.
Pflag, an organization that provides education for parents and families of LGBTQ people, had previously threatened to declare the board unsafe for students from their community.
“The most prevalent argument against last night’s motion to raise the Progress Pride Flag was the idea that raising a flag won’t fix the problems LGBTQ2IA+ students face within the board. Others belittled our Progress Pride Flag, calling it just a piece of fabric with no ties to our movement. These comments lack a true understanding of our community despite the learning trustees claimed to undertake.”
The statement called the decision a slap in the face of every 2SLGBTQ+ student.
Previous meetings demonstate just how contentious the issue has become for the board. In April, tempers flared as a group of parents heckled a pro-2SLGBTQ+ teacher with calls of “shame” outside of a meeting.
Security ejected several individuals and police were called to attend.
One of the individuals who says they had their chance to delegate revoked was teacher Paolo De Buono. The YCDSB allegedly rescinded its permission for De Buono to speak after he said his submitted remarks were found to not be in line with Catholic values.
YCDSB did not respond to a previous request for comment on this decision.
A meeting of the YCDSB in March on another 2SLGBTQ+ issue included delegations the board later said violated its code of conduct, after the speaker made a number of homophobic comments. Speakers are required to submit their delegations in writing ahead of time. The board says the speaker deviated from their submitted remarks.