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The school board, the pride flag and Pope Francis | Marvin Zuker

Friday, May 07, 2021 @ 2:08 PM | By Marvin Zuker

Marvin Zuker %>
Marvin Zuker
Subsequent to the meeting of the Halton Catholic District School Board (the HCDSB) on April 26, the following letter was addressed to the board’s trustees and states in part:

We, the 2SLGBTQIA+ student community of Halton, are appalled by your decision not to fly the pride flag outside Halton Catholic District School Board schools this June.

This isn’t a matter of opinion; this is a matter of justice and support for us queer students who have faced decades of harassment, abuse and hate for our gender identity and sexual orientation.

The pride flag represents diversity and inclusivity for all members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and allies. By not flying the flag during the month of June, you are creating a space for homophobia, transphobia and hate in our schools.

You are telling students, staff, and families that they don’t matter. …

Will the trustees of the Halton Catholic District School Board stand up for the rights of the students they’re supposed to serve and fly the pride flag this June?”

Caleb Smolenaars and Hayden Stagg

2SLGBTQIA+ Students of Halton

Is this nothing more or nothing less than a conflict between Catholicism, as the trustees may see it, and human rights? What this decision does is cause harm to others, lacks fairness and denies freedom of association. What is its justification? Where does social evolution and moral change come into play?

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation may well be analogous to discrimination on the basis of race. It can be argued that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, human rights legislation and our common law do not provide so-called religious exemptions in terms of LGBTQ protection. Are these decisions merely political and not legal?

Faith cannot be allowed to be used as a shield for discrimination. This has been our history for too long.

The future of our young people such as Caleb and Hayden must be clouded given the school board’s decision. We should not be using taxpayer money to subsidize an educational system that may choose to discriminate against LGBTQ students.

For students of the HCDSB who are gay, who are transgender, and who are also deeply connected to their faith, the dissonance they feel now must be even more intense. You love me, you say you love and yet I cannot be myself in my own school? The mental, emotional and spiritual damage to these students must be incalculable. What language, rhetoric and practices do we subconsciously support that dehumanize certain classes of people?

We can see how easy it is not to see the humanity of the most vulnerable among us. Where are we willing to lose power and social capital to come alongside the most vulnerable?

To feel safe and to feel seen, like the pride flag. To feel valued and capable of growth, like the pride flag. These are such simple concepts and the basic pillars of student achievement and the results of good pedagogy. LGBTQ students who go to school in a fully inclusive environment, where both curriculum and schoolwide policies value their identities, experience more positive outcomes. If you feel you belong you will do much better academically and socially.

An LGBTQ-inclusive school benefits all students. Seeing LGBTQ identities valued in the classroom, in the curriculum and literally each and every day must inspire empathy, understanding and most of all respect.

June may be pride month but creating a safe and inclusive school environment is a year-round effort.

How would Caleb and Hayden describe their school culture? Are the staff members allies? Can school board employees feel safe to be “out” at work?

It is very interesting to note that the largest Catholic university in the United States, DePaul, offers its students an LGTBQ studies minor.

A description of the program on the university’s website states: “… A minor in LGBTQ studies will enable you to devote significant study to the experiences of people who do not conform to culturally dominant identities of sexuality and gender: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer …”. Schools are exactly the place where moral questions can be discussed and the social justice aspect of the church can be put on display.

Who is afraid of the pride flag? It has been overstated that reason, enriched by faith, will reveal truth. Gay, Catholic students attending schools with the HCDSB and others must not only be able to carry out spaces for themselves and find allies not only among their peers, but also among their teachers and yes, their trustees.

This is part one of a two-part series. Part two: More on the school board, the pride flag and Pope Francis.

Marvin Zuker was a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, where he presided over the small claims, family and criminal courts from 1978 until his retirement in 2016. He is associate professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, where he teaches education law. Zuker is the author and co-author of many books and publications, including The Law is Not for Women and The Law is (Not) for Kids.

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