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York Catholic board faces widespread condemnation for Pride flag refusal

'Cowardly, shameful decision'; Pride groups, politicians criticizing York District Catholic School Board after trustees voted against raising flag this year
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York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) is facing widespread condemnation from politicians and Pride groups over its decision not to raise a Pride flag.

The board of trustees voted 6-4 last night against a motion that would have seen the flag raised at the board headquarters, despite pleas from student trustees who made the motion.

Pflag York Region said it has heard for years about issues regarding YCDSB and the decision shows it to be unsafe for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

“This leaves us with no alternative but to recommend that LGBTQ2IA+ students, their parents and caregivers, and any 2SLGBTQIA+ community member seeking employment with the YCDSB consider they may encounter situations that do not affirm their identity. Any proposed resolutions from these situations may not affirm their experiences and can lead to significant impacts on their mental and physical health and place their personal safety at risk,” Pflag York Region president Tristan Coolman said. 

The YCDSB decision came after months of controversy on Pride issues, with board meetings filled with people both for and against measures of support for the  2SLGBTQIA+ community. 

Board chair Frank Alexander said he voted against raising the Pride flag because he felt it conflicted with his faith, a position held by the Archdiocese of Toronto, at a news conference May 30. He responded to PFlag’s statement, as well.

“Our schools are a safe place. There are some issues within our board where students don’t feel comfortable,” he said, referencing a report on Black discrimination permeating schools. “We do have a safe place, there are some things we need to fix and certainly we’ll do that.” 

Other Pride groups also weighed in. Advocacy organization Egale Canada posted a graphic that said “YCDSB tolerates hate.”

The matter has attracted widespread media attention, and politicians are weighing in. Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas said he was “extremely disappointed” in the decision.

“It's disheartening, and frankly shocking, to see a publicly funded institution decide to not promote inclusivity and support 2SLGBTQ+ students,” he said on Twitter. 

Newmarket-Aurora MPP Dawn Gallagher Murphy also posted on social media opposing the decision.

“Despite the disappointing decision by the YCDSB, I will reiterate my support for LGBTQS2+,” she said. “I value you, I see you, and I support you.”

Former Premier Kathleen Wynne called it a “cowardly, shameful decision. It emboldens and validates homophobia and transphobia.”

But not all were upset by the decision. Former MP Joe Volpe spoke up at Alexander’s news conference and said many of the readers of the Italian newspaper he runs, Corriere Canadese, support the YCDSB choice.

“The biggest, single demographic group in York Region, and especially in the town of Vaughan, all of those people, in one way or another, appear to have the same view as you do,” Volpe said to Alexander. “We’ve already received many calls saying, for once, somebody has taken their obligation seriously, and some of the other boards in the GTA haven’t been that rigorous.” 

In the legislature today, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the Pride flag "represents a welcome, inclusive message for every child.”

"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.

Other GTA boards, including the Toronto Catholic District School Board, are raising the Pride flag at all schools in the month of June.

Alexander said he hopes that as the YCDSB improves itself and addresses issues of discrimination, it could be recognized as a positive example in time, as a board that has “solidified their faith.” 

“There may be the opportunity for us to change the minds of some,” Alexander said. “The reason I’m here is to make fundamental changes to the system." 

Despite the loss, Coolman said the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is resilient.

“This isn’t the first battle we lost, it won’t be the last,” he said. “We will outlast those trustees. We will outlast their voices of intolerance and their absence of true faith and Catholicism. We always have, we always will. We will never stop fighting for our place in the world.” 

— With files from Canadian Press