It came as a surprise to many when the Toronto Catholic School Board trustees recently voted to fly the Pride flag at all schools and offices for the month of June in celebration of Pride Month. Their positive vote was soon followed by Durham, Niagara, and Ottawa Catholic School boards joining the movement. Just imagine the hundreds of colourful rainbow flags flying at Catholic schools throughout Ontario and what a powerful message it sends not only to LGBTQ youth but to the community at large.
I sat in on the Ottawa Catholic School Board meeting last week via live stream. There were many community presentations, with the majority of them voicing opposition to the motion brought forward by two trustees to fly the rainbow and progress flags at district schools. Archbishop Marcel Damphousse joined the meeting to express his concern "We are all made in God's likeness and image, and therefore we all deserve to be treated with respect." He continued, "Everyone in the Catholic school system has made a conscious choice to be part of it knowing what our values are and what they entail." He concluded by requesting everyone to reconsider this divisive but well-meaning motion.
It wasn't surprising to hear the opposition, especially from church officials. I cringed while listening to the arguments against the motion from parents of students and/or ratepayers in the system. Here is a sampling of some of the statements made in an hour and a half of presentations:
- The cross is the only symbol of inclusion and acceptance
- It is scandalous for my children to learn what a rainbow flag represents
- The flag represents a choice of sexual activity
- I put my children in the Catholic school system because I want to control what they are taught, and this goes against Catholic teachings
- Flying this flag shows who is in control - comparing it with the Confederate flag
- This is supporting an ideology
- Schools should not be a place for indoctrination
- "Love is love" is a counterfeit statement
The harmful rhetoric in these statements is clear evidence of what LGBTQ children in many homes throughout our country are facing.
Heather Sutherland, who identifies as a queer mother of a trans-non-binary child, spoke in favour of the motion. She said, "We are already part of you. I'm not 'other'. I am a Christian. I'm already at the table, and so is my child… it's not an ideology that I'm queer."
The vote carried the motion 9-1. The lone trustee voting against was Glen Armstrong, who also happens to be seeking nomination as CPC candidate for Nepean. He announced via Twitter after the vote that he would be taking the month of June off from his duties as trustee, presumably in protest.
While one parent called it an anti-Catholic flag, LGBTQ students, staff, and parents in these Catholic schools have the promise of a rainbow flying over them as they enter their schools this June. Like Heather Sutherland said, they're already at the table. May they feel welcome and accepted at the table just as they are.
Wilbur Turner (he/him), who identifies as gay and queer, is a Kelowna-based writer and advocate who has contributed on many levels to LGBTQ rights, both locally and internationally.
(Image Credit: Lexington Herald Leader)