Parent says Toronto Catholic school Pride celebrations feel like ‘afterthought’

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A parent who grew up in a Catholic elementary school in Toronto says Pride celebrations there are seen as an ‘afterthought’ this year, compared to last year’s fanfare around the first flag raising of pride.

She says she is still waiting for a flag-raising ceremony to take place, having reached out ahead of Pride Month to help the school and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) mark the event.

“Raising the pride flag meant a lot to me and my family because it was a representation we all count on,” said Morrison, who has two sons who also attend the school.

“Not seeing the Pride flag and celebrating like we thought was very disappointing,” Morrison said Thursday.

According to a memo and emails from the council, students in grades 6 through 8 were taken to watch a nearby school’s flag raising earlier this month as the school “awaited delivery of a new Pride flag”.

Morrison said as she passed the school on Friday, she saw a pride flag being hoisted.

When CBC News interviewed Eloise Morrison outside her childhood school, St. John’s Catholic School, on June 9, the pride flag was not raised. Minutes before the interview, staff draped a pride flag atop the school fence. (James Spalding/CBC)

The TCDSB said in an email that the St. John’s Pride ceremony will still take place on June 16 to “include and welcome community members and local dignitaries.”

But according to the board’s own motions passed last year, the ceremony comes more than two weeks after all TCDSB schools were supposed to raise the flag.

Knowing how shameful she felt growing up just to have a gay father, she says she worries about LGBTQ students who missed out on the celebration that was rightfully theirs.

“Everyone has the right to feel accepted,” she says.

“It’s not enough to have done it once”

Last year, many Catholic school boards across Ontario broke tradition and, for the first time, voted to recognize Pride Month. They either hoisted the rainbow flag in schools and main offices for the entire month or first week, or allowed schools to hang them indoors and hold their own festivities.

The decision, while hailed by some for scaling up a religion that has historically not been welcoming to the LGBTQ community, has angered others in the Catholic community.

That’s why this first step was worthy of credit and recognition, says Rebecca Hooton, an education and training specialist with Toronto advocacy group The 519. But she says this step in itself, badly made, is not enough to signal full support for LGBTQ+ students.

“It’s not enough to have done it once for the first time,” says Hooton.

“The second time must also be a big deal, and there must have been some changes from last year to this year. If we haven’t seen that, that’s where the advocacy… needs to go.”

Hooton says that while the timing of the flag raising may be trivial for some, it’s important to get it right to show LGBTQ students, staff and parents that they are a priority. She says that even when it’s not Pride month, performance should still take place in the form of an inclusive program and programming.

“It’s not so much about the flag. It’s about whatever’s behind it,” she says.

Neighboring Catholic councils also fly pride flags

In a statement to CBC News, the TCDSB says it proudly celebrates Pride Month “in solidarity with 2SLGBTQ+ students, staff and allies.”

It says Pride ceremonies continue through June and “most” TCDSB schools held flag-raising ceremonies earlier in the month. He did not specify how many did not.

Other nearby Catholic school boards also flew rainbow flags.

A Durham Catholic District School Board spokesperson said the pride flag was displayed in DCDSB board offices and all schools by June 1.

Meanwhile, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board says it is flying the rainbow flag at its central office in Mississauga. He says that while he only flies Canadian flags in his schools, he allows schools to choose to hang the flag indoors and organize their own activities, that the board provides resources for staff to arrange.

The York Catholic District School Board did not respond to inquiries from CBC News.

Morrison says while she will attend the June 16 ceremony to support her family and the LGBTQ community, she wants to see better communication and planning next year.

“I was hopeful and very happy when the pride flag was considered raised last year,” Morrison said.

“I just hope it will be a priority in the future.”


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