Catholic boards are making strides to acknowledge the time of celebration of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Many of us who are not within the Catholic school system would probably be surprised that it wasn’t already happening,” says Toronto city Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam. “But I think it’s also important to recognize that when good things are done, and big first steps are taken that we give them some credit.”
The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) trustees voted in favour of proclaiming Pride Month on Thursday night. A Pride flag will be flown at the board’s office and all of its schools for the month of June.
“We recognize that this is an important step required to demonstrate the TCDSB’s ongoing commitment to fostering inclusive environments that are safe and welcoming places for 2SLGBTQ+ students and staff,” the board said in a statement.
Students at the board say the move is a positive step toward inclusivity in the education system.
“My school is making the effort to represent myself, to represent all of the silenced voices within our school environment,” says Keith Baybayon, a student trustee and Grade 11 student at Toronto’s Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School.
Pride Month was started to honour the June 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York City, a rallying point for the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
The move was met with resistance from some trustees and parents, and did not pass unanimously. Those who are against LGBTQ+ acceptance say it goes against Catholic values — however, even that is up for debate. Etobicoke-area trustee Markus de Domenico, who supported the motion, acknowledged the pushback.
“It’s not that we’re not listening, but when we’re elected we have to make tough decisions,” he says. “We always make them, and I know that I always make them, from my moral compass, from my heart, and for my children.”
The decision comes 10 days after the Halton Catholic District School Board voted against flying the rainbow flag or recognizing Pride Month.
“Even though flying the Pride flag is essentially the bare minimum that Halton Catholic schools can do to support their students, they couldn’t even follow through with that,” says Hayden Stagg, a Grade 12 student at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Burlington. “It would mean that my school potentially has my back.”
In response to the decision, all nine Catholic high schools in Halton Region posted a rainbow-themed message of support to LGBTQ+ students and parents.
De Domenico says he hopes other boards will take a cue from the TCDSB, and incorporate Pride Month.
“If the largest publicly funded Catholic school board in the world can do it, then you can,” he says, adding that Catholic boards in Waterloo, Wellington and Thunder Bay have also made the decision to acknowledge the month.
Wong-Tam notes that many students and teachers have said they felt unsafe in school because of the board’s handling of LGBTQ+ issues.
“Teachers felt they couldn’t even provide supports to the students because of the fear of being terminated,” she says, adding “the Catholic school boards, as we recognize, have a long ways to go to make sure that their spaces and their communities are affirming.”
Stagg notes that while he’s been at school, students with homophobic views have felt comfortable sharing them in front of their LGBTQ+ peers. A recent study finds LGBTQ+ youth are more than three times likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Teachers and students in the LGBTQ+ community have been sounding the alarm for years.
CityNews asked GTA boards without a clear stance on Pride Month what their policy is toward the celebration. The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB) says it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing school boards in the country. It runs schools in Brampton, Mississauga, Bolton, Orangeville and beyond.
A spokesperson for the board tells CityNews that starting June 1, the DPCDSB will fly the rainbow flag at its Catholic Education Centre, as a sign of acceptance of all students. However, it will not be flown at individual schools.
“Most DPCDSB schools have a single flagpole from which the National Flag of Canada is flown,” explains DPCDSB spokesperson Bruce Campbell. “We do not replace the national flag with any other flags, nor, in accordance with Canada’s National Flag protocol, do we fly additional flags or banners on the same pole as our national flag.”
However, Campbell adds that “DPCDSB schools are permitted to display rainbow flags/posters and items within schools similar to what has been the practice related to a wide variety of recognition days within schools.”
CityNews also reached out to Durham and York’s Catholic school boards to clarify how those boards handle Pride Month but did not receive a response by deadline.
Pride Month is listed in the York Catholic District School Board’s events calendar. The Durham Catholic District School Board does have a statement on Pride Month on its website. It writes “the month of June is designated as Pride Month in many communities across Ontario” but doesn’t explicitly state whether the board marks the occasion.
See the open letter from Halton students, with support from local government members and activists. pic.twitter.com/HartufkV4X
— Caleb Smolenaars (@cmsmolenaars) April 29, 2021