Two provinces have now warned school boards that a failure to properly observe Pride could be illegal
June 6, 2023 – Tristin Hopper / National Post
As in-school Pride celebrations face growing signs of backlash across Canada, administrators are responding with stern reminders to school boards that these observations are not optional.
“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,” Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce wrote in a June 2 statement to kick off Pride Month.
He added, “that includes celebrating Pride.”
On the evening just before June 1, teachers in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board were sent a lengthy email reminding them that “2SLGBTQ+ representation” in the classroom is a “fundamental human right” protected by law.
“The exclusion or erasure of 2SLGBTQ+ identities from educational materials constitutes a form of discrimination,” it added.
In B.C., Education Minister Rachna Singh opened Pride Month with a lengthy statement detailing how a failure to affirm and recognize students’ gender identity is a violation of the B.C. Human Rights Code.
“All schools must comply with the Human Rights Code and demonstrate they are creating safe, welcoming and inclusive environments for our students and staff,” wrote Singh, adding “when students can see themselves reflected in the world around them through stories of same-gender parents or math problems that use ‘they/them’ pronouns in a school environment, it sends a strong message of acceptance.”
The somewhat heavy-handed statements seem to be a response to an emerging backlash against in-school Pride commemorations.
Last week, the Toronto-area York Catholic District School Board narrowly voted down a proposal to fly the Pride flag at its Catholic Education Centre during the month of June.
This year has also seen a phenomenon of mysterious mass-absences from Canadian schools in what is believed to be a silent protest against LGBT content in the curriculum.
Last month, nearly one-third of the entire student population of London, Ontario’s largest elementary school was counted absent during a district-wide commemoration of International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
Sources speaking to Postmedia said that Muslim families seemed to constitute the majority of the absences, and a statement by the London Council of Imams did say they would “continue to work closely with (school board officials) to ensure that our voices are presented in the best manners while taking active steps to preserve the rights, beliefs and values of our children.”
Inspired by the London absence, June 1 was soon pegged by the anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition as the National “Pride” Flag Walk-Out Day. “Try to recruit as many families as possible so that the number of absent students is unmistakably noticeable,” wrote the group in a statement announcing a number of “pray-ins” scheduled around Ontario for June 1.
Renfrew, Ont. student activist Josh Alexander also led a May 17 walkout campaign to protest a new Ontario school policy permitting bathroom access by gender self-identification. “Josh and fellow protesters are demanding that all schools ban biological males using female restrooms and change rooms,” reads a statement by Alexander and the group Liberty Coalition Canada.
The largest manifestation of the walkout occurred in Calgary with a group of about 80 people, although it’s not clear how many of those were demonstrators and how many were counter-protesters.
Only five to 10 years ago, Pride Month celebrations within the Canadian K-12 school system were relatively muted, if they existed at all.
As recently as 2018, even the Toronto District School Board marked Pride Month with little more than a flag-raising and a contingent of teachers and staff in the official Toronto PRIDE parade.
Now, in school districts across the country, Pride Month will routinely include assemblies, craft projects, guest speakers, “spirit” days in which children are encouraged to wear rainbow clothing to class, and school-wide Pride décor.
This week, a particularly extravagant pride celebration at a Newfoundland elementary school went viral on social media. A short video posted by St. Matthew’s School in the provincial capital of St. John’s showed children being greeted at the door by a teacher in a unicorn costume, before being ushered through hallways lined with teachers waving Pride Progress flags and blasting dance music. A version of the video circulated on the U.S.-based conservative Twitter account Libs of Tik Tok has now been seen more than 1.3 million times.
Last year, Pride events in the Vancouver School Board included the painting of the rainbow flag on district infrastructure and the students of an entire East Vancouver elementary school being enlisted to march in a bespoke neighbourhood pride parade during school hours.