York Region’s chapter of Pflag is calling on all local Catholic schools to fly the Pride flag in an “act of defiance” against school board trustees who shot down a motion to display the flag outside the York Catholic Education Centre.

At a meeting on Monday night, York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) trustees voted 6 – 4 against flying the Pride Progress flag outside the Aurora building next month.

“The most prevalent argument against last night’s motion to raise the Progress Pride Flag was the idea that raising a flag won’t fix the problems LGBTQ2IA+ students face within the board,” a statement from Pflag York Region read.

“Others belittled our Progress Pride Flag, calling it just a piece of fabric with no ties to our movement. These comments lack a true understanding of our community despite the learning trustees claimed to undertake.”

Pflag, which offers support and advocates for the LGBTQ+ community, went on to say that the trustees are “incapable of fostering an environment in which marginalized communities feel a strong sense of belonging.”

“This school board is unsafe for York Region’s LGBTQ2IA+ community and it is kept unsafe by a group of York Catholic Board Trustees who weaponize their faith against marginalized communities,” the statement read.

Tristan Coolman, president of Pflag York Region, said they are encouraging all schools within the board to fly the rainbow flag despite the board’s decision on Monday.

“The flag itself was created out of an act of protest,” Coolman told CP24 on Tuesday morning, adding that he believes schools would be protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference on Tuesday morning, York Catholic District School Board Chair Frank Alexander said it would be up to the director of education to deal with any breaches of school board policy.

“That’s an operational issue but it is a violation of our policy and there are consequences for violating our policy and so the director of education will certainly handle that,” Alexander said.


'It doesn't align with out Catholic values:' Chair

When asked why he voted against flying the flag, Alexander said the board had been advised by two archbishops not to support the motion, which was tabled by two student trustees.

“Archbishop Collins has advised against raising the flag. We had an archbishop from London recently advising against raising the flag because it doesn’t align with our Catholic values and that is fundamentally why I voted against it,” he said.

“One of the things we’ve found is raising the flag in many cases doesn’t change what students are feeling and experiencing. What matters I think is how do you change the structure of the board. In other words, one of the things we would like to see is a root cause analysis of the problem.”

Alexander asserted that the York Catholic District School Board is a safe place for students.

“Our schools are a safe place. There are some issues within our board where students don’t feel comfortable, for example, you may have heard the data on Black students, for example, who suffer probably to a larger extent than other students. So they are feeling some of that so we do have a safe place. There are just some things we need to fix.”

The move by the board has sparked outrage among many members of the community, including Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s first openly gay premier. Wynne tweeted about the decision after the vote.

“This is a cowardly, shameful decision,” Wynne’s post read. “It emboldens and validates homophobia and transphobia.”

Police were present for the vote on Monday night after tensions boiled over during a meeting in April. At the meeting last month, those who opposed raising the Pride flag began shouting and refused to leave the building’s atrium until officers arrived.



Lecce sends Pride Month memo to school boards  

On Tuesday afternoon, Education Minister Stephen Lecce sent a memo to school officials with the subject “Pride Month in Ontario,” wherein he said he expects boards will “redouble their efforts to protect (2SLGBTQ+ students) and ensure their inclusion within Ontario schools.

“It is incumbent on all school boards to ensure all students – most especially 2SLGBTQ+ students – feel supported, reflected in their schools, and welcomed within our communities,” Lecce wrote. “That includes celebrating Pride in a constructive, positive and meaningful ways to affirm that 2SLGBTQ+ students know that their educators and staff, school board administrators, and government stand with them.”

Earlier in the legislature, Lecce said the Pride Flag represents a welcome and 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,” he said.

Opposition parties called on Lecce to direct YCDSB and all publicly funded boards to fly Pride flags.


Refusing to allow deputations made meeting 'a sham:' TCDSB trustee 

Markus de Domenico, a Toronto Catholic District School Board trustee, told CP24 on Tuesday that TCDSB trustees faced the same “vitriol” when they decided to raise the Pride flag outside schools in 2021.

"First of all it was extremely shameful and embarrassing what some members of the public did at meetings. That’s not how you conduct yourself even if you disagree," he said.

“I understand a lot of what the trustees were going through with the hate mail and the very virulent, terrible, vitriolic commentary that they had to endure. However, the point is we are elected to be leaders and we needed to protect students and we did it at Toronto Catholic. Not only did we fly the flag at the board office, but we fly it in front of every school and we recognize Pride month.”

He said he and others had hoped to give a deputation at the meeting on Monday but the board refused to let anyone speak. Alexander told reporters Tuesday that "numerous" deputations were given in the three months preceding the vote and all the stakeholders had been given a chance to have their voice heard.

“The approach I was going to take was as a trustee to other trustees to shed some light as to what the TCDSB did in 2021,” de Domenico said.

“On an agenda item of this significance, for the executive committee of that board to say we are accepting no delegates is beyond belief. I believe it is very, very odd and it just made the whole evening to me, kind of a sham.”

He said the TCDSB received a “phenomenal” response after it decided to raise the flag.

“Students recognized that we listen to them, that we respond to the needs, we respond to protect a marginalized community. Parents who have reached out to me have been overwhelming positively endorsing what we did. It makes our TCDSB schools a safe space, an inclusive space,” he said.

While some suggested that raising the flag would be an empty, symbolic gesture, de Domenico said he believes symbols matter.

"We have them all through society. We have them in our faith. Symbols are important. It is the first step. And they (the trustees) have just basically said no we are not taking that step. I heard a lot of the same arguments we heard at the TCDSB from some trustees. It was just a way of not accepting what needs to be done, in my opinion, and that is to accept people, to move forward together, and find ways to support students.”