Pride flag

The Alward government is sending a negative message to students and the community by not allowing Leo Hayes High School to raise the pride flag, says the head of a national group that supports LGBT communities. (Wikipedia)

Premier David Alward has pledged to review the province's flag policy at schools in light of concerns being raised about the pride flag being prohibited at Fredericton's Leo Hayes High School.

Alward has asked the ministerial steering committee on inclusive education to provide recommendations on how diversity and inclusion can best be represented in flag protocol at schools.

The recommendations will be implemented in time for the beginning of classes in September, he told reporters in Saint John on Monday.

Last week, Leo Hayes High School was forbidden from flying the rainbow flag due to the provincial government's flag protocol, which states no non-official flags can be flown on public property.

BullyingCanada's co-executive director Rob Frenette commended the premier for his "swift action" to address the issue.

The organization had called on the government to review and revise the policy after receiving calls from at least five families who said "their children now feel isolated or not as welcome in their school because they happen to identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer)," said Frenette.

"I'm very pleased to see this change, as are the clients we spoke with today," he said in a email.

Frenette suggests creating a list of pre-approved flags to be flown on school property, including the pride flag.

A national gay rights group has also called on the premier to change the flag protocol.

Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, says flying the flag is vital to promoting acceptance.

By not flying the flag, the province is sending a negative message to students and the community, she said.

"I think that the premier has an easy out, he can change protocol, he can recognize the protocol is out of step with what the education — student population, anyway, in the education system, with the support of their teachers — are trying to do here," said Kennedy.

A petition started by students at Leo Hayes, calling on the government to allow schools to raise the flag "because the safety and acceptance of children should be placed at a higher importance than a law that was forgotten about for two years," now has more than 650 signatures.

For the past two years, the high school has raised the flag during Pride Week, which is put on by the school's Gay Straight Alliance.

But this year, just a few days before the planned raising, Alward sent an email saying the students were not allowed to raise the flag.

Kennedy says prohibiting the pride flag was likely a "bureaucratic glitch in the system" that should be easily addressed and resolved as soon as possible.

"June traditionally is pride month, not only in Canada but around the world, and this issue is comes up every single year," said Kennedy.

"It's something people are still grappling with 36 years after flag was created, and will go on until we are fully accepting as a society of LGBTQ community people," she said.

Egale promotes tolerance, understanding and basic human rights for LGBTQ communities across Canada.