Local Catholic school board reverses itself, will fly Pride flag this June
In a full reversal of a decision made less than a year ago, the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington (PVNC) Catholic District School Board has voted to fly the Pride flag at its board facilities commencing this June to recognize Pride Month and support their 2SLGTBQT+ students.
Trustee Kevin MacKenzie brought forth the following motion, which passed with a majority vote during the April 26 board meeting.
“I want to set the same example to my children that Jesus did, and that’s to love all people,” MacKenzie said as he presented the motion. “I want (students) to feel proud of their school board and their school. I want them to feel proud of themselves. I want them to be filled with pride because I can tell you that I am proud of every student in our board. Let them be proud and let’s raise the Pride flag.”
Board Chairperson Braden Leal quoted Pope Francis in his support for the motion.
“Time and time again, Pope Francis’ message is explicit — we must always consider the person. The doors of our Catholic schools must be clearly open to all people,” Leal said. “We have an opportunity to physically and symbolically demonstrate full inclusion, to welcome each and every member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community by flying the Pride flag during Pride Month.”
Director of Education Joan Carragher said the raising of the Pride flag complements the board’s commitment to equity and the day-to-day work undertaken to make all students feel included.
“We will continue our commitment every single day to equity, diversity and inclusion in a focused and strategic way so that our students will continue to understand that we are accompanying them in their realization of their own unique story. The raising of the Pride flag will be one more way that we demonstrate this accompaniment,” Carragher said. “I will now work towards implementation of this passed motion from our Board of Trustees and pray that in doing so, all of our students and staff feel like they belong in our wonderful PVNC Catholic community.”
Student trustee Siobhán Marie noted the Pride flag is a tangible symbol of inclusion sending an important message that all students are welcome in our Catholic schools.
“Belongingness is a feeling that all students are entitled to, no matter their gender identity, sexuality, or if they’re still questioning who they are,” she said. “It is not enough to tell marginalized students that they belong — belongingness is a feeling fueled by action. Inclusion must be intentional, tangible, and most importantly, measurable. It’s truly important that we are supporting these students through a lens of faith, equity, and diversity.”
In June of 2020, by the narrowest of margins, PVNC voted against flying the Gay Pride flag during Pride Month. That decision led to almost immediate public backlash that included an on-line of petition with over 5,000 signatures opposing the decision.
Former board chair David Bernier said at the time that they had received “a great deal of feedback on the proposed motion from members of our community, more so than any other issue during my 15 years as a trustee for PVNCC.”
“We know that some within our community may not understand or may be disappointed with the outcome of our deliberation. Trustees voted with their conscience on this matter…”
“As a Catholic school trustee,” Bernier said, “I am entrusted with serving and protecting Catholic Education in Ontario, ensuring that our faith stands out, that all we do is in line with that faith.”
The two largest employee groups working for PVNC took to social media to express their concerns about the board’s 2021 decision.
CUPE Local 1453 said, “Very disappointing night at the PVNC board meeting. They voted down a policy that would provide a flag pole for flags to be raised including Pride, autism and Indigenous flags.”
OECTA, which represents all of the teachers currently employed by the board, was equally as upset by the vote saying, “It is with a sad heart that in a tied vote regarding raising the Pride flag, Chair David Bernier voted against the motion making it a 4-3 decision. The (two) student trustees spoke emphatically for the student voice to raise the flag, but went unheeded.”
Last June, only a single deputation was made to PVNC supporting flying the Pride flag and it belonged to retired teacher Wayne Cornack who argued that young people need “a very visible demonstration of acceptance that shows students that they are loved and included.”
Catholic school boards across Ontario have been struggling with the Pride Flag issue for a number of years. Toronto, Durham, Niagara, Waterloo and Wellington Catholic District School Boards have all voted in favour of flying the Pride flag, citing a softening in church teachings on the 2SLGBTQ+ community since the elevation of Pope Francis in 2013.
Peterborough now joins the bulk of Catholic school boards in Ontario who will be flying the gay Pride flag during the month of June “to further promote an environment of inclusion, diversity and equity in our (PVNC) community.”