Ontario Education Minister Urges Schools to Celebrate Pride Month After Board Votes Against Flying Flag

Ontario Education Minister Urges Schools to Celebrate Pride Month After Board Votes Against Flying Flag
A Canadian flag flies outside York Catholic District School Board headquarters in Aurora, Ont., on May 29, 2023, when the board voted not to fly the pride flag. (Tara MacIsaac/The Epoch Times)
Tara MacIsaac

Following controversy at York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB), which recently decided not to fly the pride flag for Pride Month in June, education minister Stephen Lecce has issued a memo saying "it is incumbent on all school boards" to ensure LGBTQ students feel supported.

"That includes celebrating Pride in a constructive, positive and meaningful ways [sic] to affirm that 2SLGBTQ+ students know that their educators and staff, school board administrators, and government stand with them," he said.

Ministry spokesperson Grace Lee confirmed the memo was sent out to Ontario school boards on May 30. At the May 29 YCDSB meeting, trustees voted 6–4 against flying the flag. It is one instance of a growing push-back on Pride Month celebrations in schools. National walk-outs are being planned for June 1 and June 9.

YCDSB trustee Angela Saggese, who voted against flying the flag, said that as a Catholic school teacher she always created a safe space for all students. LGBTQ students discussed their struggles in her class "because they felt safe," she said.

"We as Catholic educators do that every day. We embrace, we speak to them," she said. Saggese said it's important to present students with "clear guidance" rooted in Catholic teachings. “I think the board will continue to do their work to [ensure] the safety for all children. We don’t need a flag to do that,” she said.

The Catholic Perspective

Communications from Church authorities have told Ontario's Catholic schools they should be careful on LGBTQ issues.
That includes a May 24 statement by Bishop Ronald P. Fabbro of London, Ont., who said Catholic schools should “treat all people with respect” and welcome all, but should refrain from flying the pride flag “because of the confusion it causes in the minds of the faithful.”
The Institute for Catholic Education issued guidance in 2019, saying, "In the Church’s understanding, each person is made in God’s image as male or female. Life begins at the moment of conception, and gender identity is determined genetically, anatomically and chromosomally."

It said counselling support should be given with compassion to students with gender dysphoria. "Those persons should be supported to accept their birth gender." It acknowledged that publicly funded Catholic schools must also acknowledge the different perspective of sexuality and gender presented by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which "is recognized in law."

"We are called to respect persons who disagree with us, while holding the expectation that our beliefs as Catholics, and our denominational rights, will similarly be acknowledged and respected," the guidance states.

Lecce has affirmed on multiple occasions his support for Catholic education. He met with Toronto’s new Archbishop, Francis Leo, in April and reaffirmed his “unshakeable commitment to protecting Catholic education in Ontario,” he said on Instagram.

On May 17, which was International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, he tweeted, “We stand united in the defense, protection, and promotion of quality Catholic education in Ontario.”

Student, Parent Perspectives

YCDSB student trustee Anthea Peta-Dragos said during the May 29 meeting, "We walk, we eat, we study with our 2SLGBTQIA+ peers every single day. We see their struggles, we see their pain. If the act of raising the progress [pride] flag will make at least some of the students ... feel respected and safe and included ... it is our responsibility to do it."

Ova Emakpor, who graduated from a YCDSB school in 2015, attended the meeting to support his sister, who has helped lead the call for the flag-raising.

"There's nothing negative to what she's trying to do in terms of getting support for groups that maybe feel underrepresented," Emakpor told The Epoch Times before the meeting. "I didn't see that type of representation for those groups when I was in school, so I think it's probably a great thing to try and push that."

German Reyes, who has two daughters in the board, told The Epoch Times: "Our children are in Catholic schools, and there's certain values, certain beliefs that we have. And that's the reason we're putting them in these schools. We want them to grow up strong in our faith."

"This is bigger than the flag," one parent, who preferred only to give her first name, Diana, told The Epoch Times. She said schools have been "sexualizing the kids for a long time," including through books available at school libraries.