Edmonton

Edmonton high school students told to remove Pride decorations raise rainbow flag at legislature

Just days after protesting the order to take down pride week decorations at their school, Oscar Romero students raised the rainbow flag at the Alberta legislature.

Notley praises Oscar Romero students who 'stood up for what they know is right'

Pride flag raised at Alberta legislature grounds in Edmonton at a ceremony on Thursday 0:43

Just days after protesting the order to take down LGBTQ pride week decorations at their school, Oscar Romero students raised the rainbow flag at the  Alberta legislature.

During the flag-raising ceremony, the students also earned the praise of Alberta's top politician.

"As you all know, when they were asked to remove their pride decorations from their school, this group of students stood up for what they know is right," said Premier Rachel Notley during Thursday's ceremony on the legislature grounds.

The ceremony was also attended by Education Minister David Eggen and members of the LGBTQ community.

"I also want to say," Notley continued, "that in acknowledging, ultimately, the merits of the students' position on this issue ... the principal at the school, and indeed the Catholic school board, have taught a valuable lesson to these students, and frankly to all Albertans, about how important it is to stand up for those things that you believe are right when the time comes."

Earlier this week more than 30 Oscar Romero students refused to return to class after being forced to remove flags and wash away rainbow chalk drawings done to mark Edmonton Pride.

The school has since reversed its decision, blaming the incident on miscommunication, and apologized to students, whose actions led to invitations from politicians to the pride parade and the flag-raising ceremony.
Student Union president-elect Francis Niviera helped raise the rainbow flag at the legislature Thursday. (Peter Evans/CBC)

"This is all super cool, I'm like stoked," said Francis Nievera, 15, the student union president-elect at Oscar Romero, after helping to hoist the rainbow flag.

"I thought this whole thing would just be brushed off, but all the support and kind messages are so overwhelmingly nice. I'm honestly still in shock how the premier is praising this."

Grade 12 student Kennedy Harper said, "It was just really great knowing that the whole province was behind us, supporting us."

Calls to strengthen LGBTQ policy

While the situation at Oscar Romero is resolved, the incident has renewed calls urging Eggen to mandate policies that strengthen protections for LGBTQ students.

"This is more evidence that the current policies and procedures are not working," said Kris Wells, director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta.

He wants Eggen to "intervene and ensure LGBTQ students are safe and supported in Edmonton Catholic schools."

Similarly, Edmonton Catholic school board trustee Marilyn Bergstra said policies meant to protect sexual and gender minority students are still too vague.
Premier Rachel Notley praised Oscar Romero students for protesting the removal of pride decorations at their school. (Peter Evans/CBC)

"I'm highly concerned about how our LGBTQ community internalize actions such as this," said Bergstra, who sent a message to the education minister urging him to "mandate LGBTQ policy that has rigour behind it."

"We want to make sure that our LGBTQ students will always be protected and that their best interest is always going to be honoured," she said. "And secondly, we need that policy to help support teachers who stand behind our LGBTQ students."

Eggen ordered all 61 Alberta school boards to develop and submit new or revised inclusive LGBTQ policies last March, but acknowledges they still need work.

"Yes, we certainly do need to continue to strengthen policy and we are in an ongoing engagement with all schools to do that very thing," said Eggen.

"So as we move through each stage along the way, here is a good example of how we've made some progress on both of those fronts."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca        @andreahuncar