A decision by Red Deer Public Schools board of trustees to reject a district Pride Week in favour of a Diversity Week in June has some questioning the district’s commitment to its LGBTQ students and staff.
This week a motion by one of the trustees to establish Pride Week was defeated 2-4. A motion for a Diversity Week later passed 4-2.
Kristopher Wells, associate professor at MacEwan University, who specializes in sexual and gender minority youth and education, said Red Deer Public’s decision was a bit surprising.
“They’ve been known to be a progressive school board on LGBTQ issues. They were one of the early school boards to adopt a stand alone Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy,” said Wells, noting a backlash on social media against the board’s decision.
“This is really a step backwards and calls into question the commitment of the board to that policy.”
Trustees Dianne Macaulay and Cathy Peacocke voted in favour of Pride Week.
Board chair Nicole Buchanan and trustees Bev Manning, Bill Stuebing and Laurette Woodward voted against Pride Week, and in favour of Diversity Week.
Buchanan said the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy already allows schools to have a Pride Week.
“The board and the division are extremely proud of our Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy which was highlighted as one of the best policies of school jurisdictions in the province by LGBTQ+ champions,” Buchanan said.
She said at the meeting all trustees spoke with passion and conviction of their full support for all LGBTQ students, staff, families and the larger community.
While there have been no Pride Weeks yet at any of the schools, Buchanan said she would like to see them be held.
“I would like to see that happen from the school level. I want people to have the opportunity to do what they want without being forced to do it,” Buchanan said.
Red Deer Public Schools said diversity celebrations will encourage and include specific actions that recognize the challenges and struggles facing by LGBTQ individuals and the community.
But Wells, who is also Canada Research Chair (Tier II) for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth, said trying to lump everything into a catch-all Diversity Week does a disservice to everyone.
“It’s sort of a bland, generic approach that we might have seen 10 or 15 years ago. Right now we understand the specificity and importance of celebrating the unique identity and cultures of the students who attend our schools. That’s exactly why Pride Week exists.”
In Alberta, Edmonton Public Schools and St. Alberta Public Schools have Pride Weeks.
“The reality is that LGBTQ young people are still identifying that school is often not a safe or welcoming environment for them. They’re still experiencing bullying and discrimination. Pride week is not only a time to celebrate, but a time to educate.”
He said in some cases 10 to 20 per cent of school populations may identify as LGBTQ.
“In this country unfortunately, LGBTQ is still one of the three most targeted groups for hate crimes. Of all the hate crimes committed, they’re the most violent in nature. So clearly we have an issue here that needs to be addressed.”
“The bottom line is schools need to be safe, welcoming and inclusive for everyone. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. That’s exactly why we’re having events like Pride Week,” said Wells, who along with others, want Red Deer Public to reconsider its decision.
Macaulay, who put forward the Pride Week motion, said online comments about the motion show a huge lack of understanding about what Pride Week is about, and what members of the LGBTQ community face on a daily basis.
“There’s still a lot of negativity. There’s still a lot of misunderstanding on exactly what it’s like to be gay, or trans, or gender neutral, or anything like that. It’s something we still need to educate our public on and treat everybody with kindness,” Macaulay said.
But resubmitting the motion will likely result in the same outcome, she said.
“If another organization wanted to bring something forward it may have more merit. But it was pretty clear at the board meeting how people wanted this week to be celebrated. They wanted to celebrate a Diversity Week.”
A petition — Support Pride Week in Red Deer Public Schools – Reverse Trustees Vote Against It — has been set up at Change.org with a goal of 500 signatures. As of Friday evening, 190 people had signed the online petition.