Published May 30, 2023

York Catholic school board votes against flying Pride flag at main office

The three opposition parties are calling on the education minister to direct all publicly funded school boards to fly Pride flags

Files from Barrie 360

By Fakiha Baig

The York Catholic District School Board voted against flying a Pride flag outside its main office next month because the rainbow banner does not align with the Catholic faith, the board chair said Tuesday as the move was criticized by some.

Chair Frank Alexander said the board will instead focus its attention on making systemic changes that support marginalized students, although he did not detail what those changes might be. 

"Part of my role and part of the role of the board is to make sure that Christ remains at the centre of who we are (and) that Catholic education remains strong," Alexander said during a news conference.

"The Archbishop of London most recently said that we love that community, we acknowledge them as children of God. However, there are parts of that belief system that really does not align with our faith."

The board's Gender, Sexuality and Catholic Education Committee had put forward a motion asking for the Progress Pride flag to be flown outside the board's Catholic Education Centre in Aurora, Ont., in June to mark Pride Month. 

Trustees voted 6-4 against the motion on Monday night during a meeting that was attended by advocates, protesters and other observers.

Alexander said Tuesday that the board has not made any decisions on how it will commemorate Pride Month in June.

The York Catholic board's decision was a topic of discussion at the legislature on Tuesday. 

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the Pride flag is something everyone can rally behind.

"It represents a welcome, inclusive message for every child,” he said in the legislature.

"We know that (LGBTQ) kids face disproportionate impacts and challenges in schools, which is why the government, the premier and our entire party will continue to be at Pride, visibly, actively celebrating with the LGBTQ community."

All three opposition parties are calling on Lecce to direct the York Catholic board, and all publicly funded school boards, to fly Pride flags.

"The minister certainly does have the tools to actually do more than just offer empty platitudes, which aren't keeping students safe," said Kristyn Wong-Tam, the NDP’s critic for 2SLGBTQ+ issues.

York Catholic board Trustee Michaela Barbieri, who voted to defeat the motion, said Monday that the flag doesn't do much to address the struggles and challenges LGBTQ youth face in Catholic schools.

"Just having a discussion about raising the flag has created a division within our community," she said. 

"I cannot approve of, or vote yes for, something that (claims to) help eliminate division and showcase inclusivity when it clearly has been doing the very opposite in these past months."

Trustees who supported the motion said flying the Pride flag would promote a safe and welcoming school environment and the board needs to find a balance between being "both pious and pragmatic."

"As a Catholic board, we must always, always put chastity at the forefront of all our teachings," trustee Elizabeth Crowe said.

"We expect that our teachers will do so and they will follow our Catholic religious curriculum that is approved by the bishops. But that does not mean we abrogate our responsibility for ... the safety of our students."

Junior student trustee Jonah James also spoke at the meeting. 

"To say that the flag causes division is ignorant and truly untrue," James said.

"The truth is this issue is about the safety and well-being of our students. As Christians, the one thing you are called upon to do is to support and help everyone on this planet no matter who or what they are."

A trustee with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, which voted two years ago to fly a Pride flag at every school in the board during Pride Month, criticized the York Catholic board's decision. 

"It just boggles my mind that in 2023 this is even part of a debate," TCDSB trustee Maria Rizzo said in an interview. "York Catholic District School Board is shameful, hypocritical at best." 

Rizzo said the York board needs to find a balance between faith and the Education Act, which calls for all students to feel welcome.

About 50,000 students are enrolled in the York Catholic School Board's 85 elementary and 16 secondary schools located across nine municipalities, including Aurora, Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill and Vaughan.

Barrie 360 asked the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDB) if a decision had been made to fly the Pride flag outside its main board office in Barrie or if Pride flags will be flown outside its secondary schools.

"We display the Pride flag at the board office all year long. During the month of June, we will recognize Pride month on our social channels and website."

The Pride flag is located inside the front entrance to the board's office on Alliance Boulevard.

- With files from Allison Jones. 

Banner image: The Pride flag is displayed at the front entrance of the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board main office in Barrie/Barrie 360-May 30

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2023.

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