Dozens of students walked out of Sacred Heart Catholic School today in protest of their school board's decision not to fly a Pride flag.
The Newmarket students joined an organized walkout across York Region Catholic School Board high schools June 8. The protest criticized the board of trustees voting not to fly a Pride flag this year after months of debate about 2SLGBTQIA+ issues.
Student trustee Jonah James joined with students to march around the school’s block and said it was inspiring.
“This is students once again telling the board, telling everyone, that we deserve a place. We deserve to be recognized, and we deserve to be loved,” James said.
The school board has faced widespread scrutiny and condemnation over its decision against flying a Pride flag, which failed on a 6-4 vote. Many students, community members and the teachers union opposed the decision, with some trustees expressing concern about what the flag represents.
Student Stella Almeida said the battle has manifested in the school halls, as well. She said posters put up by the school’s LGBTQ+ support group were ripped down.
“The school board deciding not to raise the Pride flag is extremely hurtful to the community, especially a community that’s been hurt in the past and needed a show of support,’ Almeida said.
The many students marching were joined by community members, as well as outside union officials.
President of OPSEU Local 330 Kelly Martin, part of the Simcoe County District School Board, said she wanted to attend to show solidarity.
“Pride needs to be recognized,” Martin said. “Solidarity in numbers always makes a difference … It’s amazing the students of this school and this location have come together to show solidarity, to support the community, the Pride community, and stand up for what they believe is right.”
York Region Children’s Aid Society union president Andrew Harrigan said it is important to rally together and show support.
“We want kids to feel safe, and that is what we need to do,” he said.
York Catholic Teachers also released a statement supporting the protest.
"Our students have let the trustees know that they have failed them and it is time for the trustees to make things right and fly the flag," the organization said.
Other community members also attended to show support. Ann Monks said students should be recognized and that she hopes they keep protesting until there is change.
Students “deserve to be embraced and celebrated and not be afraid of who they are,” Monks said.
The students ultimately do not have a vote at the board of trustees table, James said. But he added that he hopes continued fighting can drive change.
“We hope to change their minds,” James said. “The greatest of things comes from the hardest of work, and we’re all working hard.”