Ottawa Archbishop: Some Parents Say Flying ‘LGBT’ Flag ‘Hijacks’ Ontario Catholic Schools
While Archbishop Damphouse said that Catholic schools have certain values, Catholic school systems in Ontario are taxpayer-funded, and schools are not owned by the dioceses in which they operate.
OTTAWA, Ontario — With multiple Catholic school systems in the Canadian province of Ontario deciding to fly the rainbow LGBT Pride flag in June, one Ontario archbishop says that the movement contradicts Catholic teaching.
“To say ‘I want to live a life according to what the gay pride flag and movement promotes,’ well, I’m sorry, that’s not in line with our Catholic teaching,” Archbishop Marcel Damphouse of Ottawa-Cornwall told CBC News. "You can be in our Catholic school. That‘s a choice you make to come to our school, but know that we have certain values that we live by and that’s what we'll be teaching.”
The archbishop added that some parents feel the schools flying the flags have been “hijacked.”
“The parents, if they send their children to a Catholic school, they have expectations of receiving a Catholic education, according to our Catholic values," Archbishop Damphouse said. “Those are the ones that are sending me emails right now saying, ‘We’ve been hijacked’.”
At least eight Catholic school boards in Ontario have voted to fly the LGBT Pride flag, some for the whole month of June and some for the first week of the month. The celebration of June as Pride Month commemorates the June 1969 Stonewall Riots, when patrons of a gay bar in New York City rioted against a police raid.
While Archbishop Damphouse said that Catholic schools have certain values, Catholic school systems in Ontario are taxpayer-funded, and schools are not owned by the dioceses in which they operate. While bishops set catechetical curricula and ensure sacramental ministry in school contexts, they do not exercise control over elected boards. Provincial governments set basic rules for the operation of those schools, while local decisions are made by trustee boards elected by Catholics at the time of municipal elections.
Catholic schools have come under significant political, cultural and legal pressure to fly Pride flags and otherwise accede to LGBT demands. Some parents, however, have protested the decisions to fly the Pride flags.
Ahead of a May 25 Durham Catholic School Board vote on a motion to display the flag, which ultimately passed, the advocacy group Parents as First Educators circulated a petition titled “Lift high the Cross and not the Pride flag.”
“Parents exercise their choice when they send their children to Catholic schools, and they expect them to receive an education with Catholic moral teaching. Catholic schools need to be clear about the messages they give to children, and consistently teach students the truth about the faith,” the group said.
“Raising the Pride flag suggests approval of sexual activity of which the Catholic Church disapproves and violates Catholic teaching on chastity for all young people. Activists are using the Pride Flag motion to enforce their ideological agenda,” said the group.
The Durham Catholic school board’s motion cited the need to follow provincial legislation, as well as Ministry of Education policy and the Human Rights Code.
“Failure to address circumstances in which an individual suffers bullying, isolation or harassment as a result of their gender identity or sexual orientation and therefore does not have access to education free from discrimination would constitute a violation of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code,” the school board’s motion said.
“Discrimination is most easily identified in specific acts, however, the adoption of policies or procedures that do not adequately consider the lived experiences of individuals protected under the code is also discriminatory,” the motion stated.
The London District Catholic School Board did not consider a proposal to fly the Pride flag.
“As a group, we have not discussed it. It has not come to the board, and I have not received anything this year requesting we take a look at that,” Linda Steel, the chair of the Catholic board of trustees, told CBC News.
“Often, we take our lead from the community and so far we have not gotten that head-nod from the community. I think anything that the community wants us to discuss, we should have a thoughtful discussion about.”
Mark Adkinson, a spokesperson for the board, said the board receives several requests each year to fly flags to raise awareness about various issues. Its practice is to fly only the Canadian flag, the Ontario flag or the Franco-Ontarian flag. Each school has a “belonging plan” to promote “safe, caring, inclusive and health communities for everyone” he said.
Valeria Zambrano, whom CBC News described as an LGBTQ grade 10 student at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School in London, supported flying the flag.
"It bothers me a lot more now, because I see the flags up, and I think, ‘How hard is it to support something that is not bad at all? I don’t get it,” Zambrano said.
CBC News previously covered Zambrano in May 2019, reporting that she declared herself a lesbian to her eighth grade class. At the time, Zambrano, aged 13, and about two dozen schoolmates at Notre Dame Catholic Elementary School were planning to wear t-shirts to support students identifying as LGBT, with help from some of their parents. The move was in response to a school board decision not to fly a Pride flag.
The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic School Board’s chair Patrick Daly said that the board would display the Canadian flag and the cross at all its schools, describing these as symbols of inclusion.
“I hope individuals will read the statement which is intended to show our clear commitment - past, current and future - to do all we can to ensure our schools are places where each belong,” Daly said May 30.
However, LGBT activists and their supporters - including the Ontario Parent Action Network - criticized the decision and demand that schools fly the Pride flag. The Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion claimed that the Catholic school board’s decision was perpetuating “violent, discriminatory acts.”
“This is not the time for separation and segregation as this is not a matter of church doctrine, but rather of public morals and human rights,” the Queer Trans Diversity Coalition of Hamilton said. “Raising a flag will not diminish your faith but strengthen it.”
Two trustees of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board resigned amid a Pride flag controversy, one of them citing the controversy as a contributing factor to his resignation.
“Flying the Pride flag is one aspect of my decision but not the sole concern,” former trustee Kevin Dupuis told CTV News. "This is a separation of a specific group and giving favors to one group only divides the other students.”
He said the board implemented the decision to fly the Pride flag without a vote from trustees, adding that he had sought a referendum on the question. Dupuis said that conversations about the Pride flag “seemed to be one-sided.” While the LGBT advocacy group Spectrum asked to speak to the board, Dupuis thought the board should have asked Right to Life groups and Parents as First Educators to speak as well.
He also objected to an “equity census report” that he thought excessively divided students by race, sex, gender and ethnicity, and was using “an awful lot of identity politics.”
“Everyone on the board including myself would like to see all of our students thrive as individuals, hold their heads high with dignity and be respected,” he said in an email to the Canadian news site Global News. “We just have different approaches on how that should be accomplished.”
Dupuis had criticized “wokeism” in his resignation letter, which he said was related to his concerns about “critical race theory.” He thought a “self-loathing attitude” was being created for students and he worried about an agenda he called “questionable,” he told 570 News. He specifically referred to the board’s statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, adding that others believe “all lives matter.”
“Things like that are concerning, and it seems to be driven by a very left-leaning agenda. That’s what I’m speaking out against – this need for identity politics when I think we’re all children of God; we should all be united and coming together as one. That’s why I’m resigning,” said Dupuis. He intends to run in the next federal election for Kitchener-Conestoga as a candidate for the People’s Party of Canada.
While the Toronto Catholic School District Board has voted to proclaim June as Pride Month and to fly the rainbow LGBT Pride flag outside all its schools, the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto has emphasized the symbolic power of the cross, and Cardinal Thomas Collins has sought to emphasize the importance of the Sacred Heart of Jesus during June, the month of the Sacred Heart.
“The cross outside of Catholic schools and any Catholic church, hospital or institution, signals our commitment that all who enter the building are welcomed and loved in their beauty and uniqueness as children of God,” the Toronto archdiocese said in a May 4 statement.
Cardinal Collins had previously met with directors of education and chairs of Catholic school boards in the archdiocese to discuss inclusion issues, including requests that some school boards fly the Pride flag.
In a March 23 letter, Cardinal Collins addressed all Catholic school board trustees, directors of education, and all Catholic institutions about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which he called the sign of Christ’s “true compassionate love” that all young people deserve. He noted that the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus falls on June 11 and that June is celebrated in the Church as the Month of the Sacred Heart. He encouraged the celebration both of this feast and the month.
“(F)or a Christian the Sacred Heart signifies the steady, reliable, faithful, life-giving love which we experience in Jesus as we encounter him both in the Gospels and in our life of faith; we are called to imitate that faithful love,” Collins said.