Around the same time provincial election signs come down this June, some Ontarians will witness rainbow Pride flags going up in places not thought possible.
Halton and Hamilton Catholic school boards had both said no to flying the flag last year, but these two holdouts provided rainbow-inspired responses recently, reversing their previous black-and-white decisions.
The Halton Catholic District Board was the first to revisit and reverse a motion that was originally brought forward by trustee Brenda Agnew last year and amended. This January, a majority of trustees sided with Agnew, signalling large orders of rainbow flags being placed for delivery and hoisting in time for joyous June.
Last year, the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board had a discussion at a spring meeting where chair Pat Daly put his stamp of disapproval on the Pride flag and maintained the prominence of the cross along with the Canadian flag.
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He said something similar at March’s meeting when trustee Mark Valvasori brought forward a motion to see the rainbow colours hoisted high at every school in the board. The motion passed.
Valvasori recognized the divisiveness connected to LGBTQ2S+ within the Catholic board, but said “the motion is all about the kids.”
While the powerful and positive comments from the trustees and others on behalf of LGBTQ2S+ students were part of Valvasori’s motivation to see the motion pass, he was almost equally motivated by the vitriol and hatred he heard from those against.
One of those “kids,” in my books, is Ian Dekker. Ian and I attend St. Joseph’s Parish in Hamilton, and until the pandemic, sang together in the Family Choir. Four years ago, Ian asked if he could speak with me after Mass.
Ian was bubbling with excitement, exhibiting the feeling that freedom to be yourself can bring. As he came out to me as gay, he said seeing his parents and others in our church treating me, an out and proud lesbian/dyke, with love and respect all these years, signalled to him that it would be okay to come out to his family.
The good energy that day stood in stark contrast to the torment Ian was experiencing from his peers in the local Catholic elementary school. Ian transferred to a public school nearby because of it.
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When Ian returned to a Catholic school for his secondary education, he came back with increased resilience and leadership, landing as school president for his last year before heading to university in Ottawa. They also came out as genderqueer, using pronouns he, she or they.
Last year, they called me seeking advice on how to influence the board to raise the Pride flag. I introduced them to Kathleen Wynne. Who better than a former school board trustee and the first LGBTQ2S+ provincial premier in Canada to encourage Ian in their efforts?
Bolstered by the conversation, Ian contacted the other student council presidents in the board and the student trustees, both of whom spoke in favour of the motion.
Hamilton and Halton Catholic boards join several other boards across Ontario that have raised the rainbow flag on school sites, but there are still many more to go.
Deirdre Pike is a a proud queer Catholic, living in the city colonized as Hamilton, Ont., on lands long tended to by Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee people, determined by the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Agreement.
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