York Catholic school board won’t fly Pride flag

  • May 31, 2023

By a vote of 6-4, the York Catholic District School Board voted against raising the Pride flag at the Catholic Education Centre in Aurora, Ont., for the month of June.

Pride month is celebrated by the LGBT community and its supporters throughout June. 

A charged public board meeting was held May 29, the last in a series of raucous meetings dating back to February that examined the issue and on three occasions forced the board to call police to bring order.

Board members who voted against flying the flag cited their Catholic faith, beliefs that the Cross is already a unifying symbol for the school community and a preference to complete meaningful work within schools to help the LGBT community feel welcome instead of symbolic gestures.

Trustee Michaela Barbieri  notably opined the debate over the flag has already caused division and flying it will not bring unity.

In a news conference on May 30, board chair Frank Alexander, who voted no to raising the flag, affirmed that the teachings of Jesus Christ “must be primary” in shaping the culture of YCDSB schools.

“We’re loving Christians,” said Alexander. “We’re all God’s children. We welcome everyone. We respect everyone. That is where we want our focus to be — love, respect, kindness. All those things that our faith teaches us, and that Jesus passed on to us...

“We tend to lose sight of who we are. We tend to be politically inclined rather than understanding that the North Star of our faith is our Saviour.”

Alexander added Catholic leaders, including former Toronto archbishop Cardinal Thomas Collins, have spoken against the Pride flag being raised outside Catholic institutions. In 2021, Collins wrote “there is belief among some that unless one embraces secular symbols, one cannot be inclusive or accepting. That is simply not true.” Collins also stated that the “appropriate symbol that represents our faith, and the inclusion and acceptance of others, is the Cross.”

Representatives in favour of raising the flag argued it would boost the mental health and self-esteem of marginalized students and keep the board’s values aligned with Ontario’s Education Act, which could be key for ensuring a long-term future for Catholic education funding in Canada’s largest province.

Junior student trustee Jonah James passionately endorsed raising the flag. The Grade 11 student at Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Newmarket was disappointed after the verdict.

“It really is unfortunate that the voice of students was not heard by the majority of the trustees,” said James. “It is extremely disheartening, but, again, we will continue to fight. Students are strong fighters, and we will continue to be there to represent them.”

Alexander said the YCDSB team is driven to do the hard work of uncovering the root causes of why LGBT students feel unsafe at school in order to come up with impactful solutions that will foster an environment where every student can succeed.

The well-publicized disruptions from pro- and anti-flag advocates at board meetings in recent months required police presence to calm the temperature. Preventative measures were taken at this meeting to discourage similar behaviour. Parents and other members of the general public attending the proceedings had to show photo identification to gain entry and were handed a letter detailing expectations of conduct.

The York board was not the only one dealing with the issue. On May 24, London Bishop Ronald Fabbro also spoke against the raising the flag at schools in his diocese.

“Because of the confusion it causes in the minds of the faithful, I do not endorse raising the Pride flag at our Catholic schools,” stated the bishop. “We never lose sight, though, that all are children of God, called to salvation in Jesus Christ, and offered the hope of eternal life.”

He added that when “parents send their children to a Catholic school, they rightly expect that Catholic teaching is presented, lived and infused in all that we do.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.