Hamilton

'Times are changing and they are not changing with them' — Brant Catholic won't fly Pride flag

Students and teachers in the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board were hoping Pride month 2022 would mark their first year of flying the rainbow Pride flag.

CBC asked the Brant Catholic school board and trustees for comment but has received no response

A student at Assumption College School in Brantford, Ont., expressed hurt and disappointment that trustees have rejected a request to fly the flag. (Assumption College School Alumni/Facebook)

Students and teachers in the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board (BHNCDSB) were hoping Pride month 2022 would mark their first year flying the rainbow Pride flag. 

But efforts to make this a reality have once again proven futile. 

A student at Assumption College School in Brantford, Ont., expressed hurt and disappointment that trustees have rejected a request to fly the flag — something they feel would help foster inclusion and show support for members of the school's LGBT community.

The student — whose identity CBC is withholding out of concern for their wellbeing — was left feeling "sad" upon learning of the decision not to fly the rainbow flag this month.

"As much as I respect the decision, it makes me disappointed," the student said, adding that it "kind of caught me off guard."

"We had been discussing it for a while, even drafting and sending a letter to the trustees about flying the flag. Knowing that we put all this effort in towards this, just for it to be shot down, is discouraging."

"This is important to me, and to people like me, for representation. Knowing there are people in an environment you can trust and look to for help is important, and flying the flag would have done that for a lot of people," added the student.

'This denial … hurts my heart'

The student said a lot of people would have felt much "safer and included" if the flag had been flown. 

"The trustees are set in their ways and they have that right, but the times are changing and they are not changing with them," the student said. 

"We are a Catholic organization, we are meant to treat people with kindness and respect. Jesus teaches us to respect and love each other. This denial of displaying a symbol of love and pride hurts my heart."

CBC Hamilton asked the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board, as well as trustees, for comment on the decision not to fly the Pride flag but hasn't received a response. 

Some Catholic schools in Ontario flew rainbow Pride flags for the first time, in 2021. (Jane Roberston/CBC)

In 2021, at least eight Catholic school boards in some of Ontario's most populous areas voted for the Pride flag to be raised at all their schools for all of June to mark Pride month. That year also marked the first time some Catholic schools in Ontario flew rainbow Pride flags.

Flying the Pride flag 'has huge importance'

Assumption College School Council co-chair Fatima De Jesus says she wrote to board trustees on May 11 requesting that they be allowed to fly the rainbow flag for Pride month. She did not get a response, so she sent a follow up on June 9.

According to De Jesus, the only time she was made aware of any decision that was made on the board's refusal to fly the Pride flag was through an article in The Expositor — a local newspaper in Brant.

I think at some point in time, people's lives, children's lives and feelings and anything else need to come before bureaucratic policies.​​- Fatima De Jesus, co-chair, Assumption College School Council

De Jesus says flying the Pride flag "has huge importance" and would help "promote inclusion" for students and teachers of the LGBT community.

"Flying the Pride flag, in my opinion, would be a very small way of showing our students in this particular board that they absolutely are welcome, they absolutely should feel included," De Jesus told CBC News.

"These kids see what's happening across the province, they see other school boards. In fact, in our own community here, this is the Catholic School Board, which has chosen not to fly the flag, yet the public school board — the Grand Erie District School Board — has chosen to fly the flag.

"So, these kids could potentially have a high school across the street from another school, and if you're in the public board, you're being welcomed and included, but if you're in the Catholic board, there's no sign that you are," she added.

Assumption College School Council co-chair Fatima De Jesus says she's had no response to two letters she sent to the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board, requesting that the Pride flag be flown this month. (Submitted by Fatima De Jesus)

De Jesus says even though it's almost halfway through Pride month, she still hopes the trustees will reconsider their decision.

"I don't understand why a small acknowledgement like flying the Pride flag for the month of June is not the right thing to do right now for these particular students," she said.

'We did make plans not to fly the Pride Flag outside our buildings'

CBC News has obtained a copy of a letter, dated June 9, from Catholic board chair Rick Petrella, sent via Assumption College School Principal Humberto Cacilhas to the school council.

In the letter, Petrella said while he agrees that all students in the Catholic school system must feel included and welcomed, there are no plans to fly the rainbow flag this month.

"We did make plans not to fly the Pride Flag outside our buildings across the district; however, the Board is currently examining the Flag Policy to look for ways that it can be more inclusive to all groups in the future," Petrella wrote in the letter.

"...I would suggest the possibility, and am open to, a meeting with the new school council, in the fall, to have an open and collaborative discussion on how we can amend our Flag Policy and move forward through our Catholic lens."

But De Jesus says what students and teachers are calling for is to see the Pride flag flying at their schools this month.

"I think at some point in time, people's lives, children's lives and feelings and anything else need to come before bureaucratic policies," she said.

"So, let's put the policies aside. I don't know what kind of policy we need to be able to fly a flag, but this isn't about policy. This is about making our students and our children feel welcomed and included."

A spectre of fear and shame 

Meanwhile, CBC News has also seen a copy of a letter the Assumption College Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) sent to trustees asking that June be designated 2SLBGTQ+ Pride month at the BHNCDSB.

In it, they spoke about "the historical culture of fear, sanction, silence and shame surrounding 2SLGBTQ+ issues" in the Board, highlighting that "many staff members continue to be afraid to come out for fear of isolation, harassment, and dismissal."

The GSA said students are robbed of positive models of faith-filled, Catholic 2SLGBTQ+ adulthood, and instead of seeing themselves reflected in the teaching staff, queer students are met with a spectre of fear and shame. 

"The message they get is that life does not get better and, should they aspire to be teachers, the BHNCDSB is not a community that would welcome them. This needs to change," the letter said.

According to the GSA, the acknowledgement and celebration of Pride month at the BHNCDSB would symbolize a fledgling acknowledgement and celebration of 2SLGBTQ+ students and staff.

"The raising of the Pride flag at the CEC [Catholic Education Centre], and at our schools, would symbolize the centring and recognition of many of the most marginalized and invisible members of our community," the GSA said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Desmond Brown

Web Writer / Editor

Desmond joined CBC News in October 2017. He previously worked with The Associated Press, Caribbean Media Corporation and Inter Press Service. You can reach him at: desmond.brown@cbc.ca.

now