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LGBTQ+ community rallying against Catholic trustee's move to ban flags

York Catholic District School Board to vote on motion Jan. 30 that would stop organizations' flags from being displayed anywhere on school premises
A banner hanging at the York Catholic District School Board headquarters.

York Region's 2SLGBTQIA+ community is raising concern over a York Catholic District School Board trustee's motion to ban displays of any flags that are not government, school or Vatican flags. 

Trustee Frank Alexander has made a motion to be discussed Jan 30 to amend the board’s flag policy. The proposed amendment would remove reference to flags “from other organizations” that are not the government, school or Vatican, which would be the only flags flown or displayed within board premises. It also would state that “no other flags shall be displayed within school premises.”

PFlag York Region is planning to attend the board meeting Jan. 30, with president Tristan Coolman saying it is hard to see this resolution come forward after a months-long battle over Pride flags with the school board last year.

"It’s like, 'can you leave us alone?', in a way,” Coolman said. “There’s really no reason or reasonable argument to create a motion like this … Our community is really just looking for respect.”

PFlag put out a call to action to supporters, along with a letter sent to trustees urging them not to pass the motion. The letter said the motion could impact many minority groups in the YCDSB. 

Coolman said the organization hopes it can sway the trustees who might be in the middle on the issue.

“This isn’t just a queer community issue. We think there are issues here that have to deal with free speech,” he said, adding that the resolution could also impact the board’s strategic plan. “We’re hoping the trustee who may be in the middle really sees those perspectives.” 

The school board became embroiled in a dispute over the display of the Pride flag for Pride Month in 2023, with trustees voting against it despite pleas from some students. That was preceded by concern about stickers indicating safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community inside the school, with some parents protesting them. 

The current flag policy addresses only flags displayed on school flag poles. It said based on flag pole space, preference would be given to the national flag, the provincial flag, the municipal flag, the papal flag, the school flag, and other organizations approved by trustees, in that order. 

Alexander’s motion would remove that reference to other organizations and add new rules about the display of flags elsewhere in the school. Alexander tilted the motion as one that would “bring unity,” and notes that the board has “been fraught with disunity over the flying of flags.”

The trustee is also bringing forth a second motion. It calls for the director of education to create a sticker bearing a cross and the words “we are one in Christ,” and affix it throughout board premises. 

Coolman said that “can also be seen as a direct response to the work of the safe space stickers last year.” 

Asked about Alexander's motion, board chair Elizabeth Crowe said all trustees have the right to put forward motions. 

"As part of the democratic process, Trustees will have the opportunity to debate and vote on the motion," Crowe said. 

Alexander is still facing potential scrutiny on LGBTQ+-related issues. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association filed a complaint in November to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, alleging that the then-board chair sent an email last Sept. 9 to the board's gender, sexuality and Catholic education committee. The alleged email from Alexander contained a link to a conspiracy video linking the 2SLGBTQI+ community with pedophilia and said that the committee should be disbanded.

The association confirmed that the matter has yet to be heard by the tribunal. 

The local OECTA said the it opposed the motion and it will result in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community feeling targetted.

"Far from its stated objective to “bring unity to York CDSB,” the proposed motion by Trustee Alexander would have the opposite effect – it would target and exclude particular people from equity-deserving groups within our school communities," it said. "There is a shameful irony in a motion that proposes to achieve unity through division, and inclusivity through exclusion."

But two months after sending the email, Alexander would earn half the votes from fellow trustees to stay on as board chair. Alexander ultimately lost the role to trustee Elizabeth Crowe.

The meeting Jan. 30 will start at 7:30 p.m. at the YCDSB board office in Aurora at 320 Bloomington Rd. It will also be broadcast live on the board's YouTube channel.