There will be repercussions for Red Deer Public School trustees in October’s municipal election after Wednesday’s decision to reaffirm support for a district-wide Diversity Week instead of a Pride Week, say LGBTQ community advocates.
Backlash towards the school board started in February when a motion by a trustee to establish Pride Week was defeated 2-4. Instead, a Diversity Week motion passed 4-2.
On Wednesday, following four private presentations from individuals, the board reaffirmed its commitment to a Diversity Week, saying it showed “unequivocal support and commitment to LGBTQ+ students, staff and families.”
But Kristopher Wells, associate professor at MacEwan University, who specializes in sexual and gender minority youth and education, said the decision was more like “a slap in the face” and the issue was “far from over.”
“This story has gone international. It’s a major black eye not only for Red Deer Public Schools and the City of Red Deer, but for the province of Alberta and our country. It portrays the message that we’re a backwards community and nation that is not at all in keeping with the values that we hold dear as a Canadian society — one of diversity and inclusion and supporting and defending human rights,” said Wells, who is also Canada Research Chair (Tier II) for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth.
The district’s current Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy does give schools the ability to host Pride Weeks and events. But Wells said the board is just passing the buck and leaving the decision up to individual schools.
“That’s not board leadership. That’s the board abdicating their leadership and sending the wrong message.”
He encouraged every school council and students to create Pride Week at each and every district school to show the board that it is wrong.
“Things like Pride Week matter because they tell LGBTQ students and families, and LGBTQ teachers, that their school district cares about them and wants not only to respect and protect them, but celebrate them, and use that Pride Week as an important educational opportunity to educate everyone in the school community about the LGBTQ community, and the importance of understanding, respecting and celebrating diversity and difference in our schools and society.”
Shannon Humphrey, who made one of the presentations to the district, didn’t feel heard, and asks the board to rethink its decision.
“By failing to recognize an official Pride Week or even a Pride Day, they’re inadvertently telling those students that they’re not worthy of being celebrated, recognized or uplifted. Students in their district deserve to be valued as humans, safe in their schools, and their lives set up for success,” said Humphrey, spokesperson for Central Alberta Pride Society.
The district says it is dedicated to upholding its Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy, but its decision runs counter to that policy, Humphrey said.
Red Deer mom Jennifer Prevost, who has already collected about 3,570 names on a change.org petition to convince the board to support Pride Week, said she will be reaching out to parents whose children attend the district and encourage them to write to individual trustees and the superintendent.
“We need to ramp up our efforts and prove to them that they did make the wrong decision,” Prevost said.
She said as trustees, they pledged to focus on equity and success for all students.
“It’s completely unacceptable that these people are responsible for the well being of children in our community. I would encourage the community to vote to remove certain trustees that are unwilling to budge on this concept in the upcoming election, Prevost said.
Wells said there are people in the community already getting nomination materials ready to run for school board.
“Maybe that’s the positive that will come out of this. Come election time, you’ll even have a stronger and more progressive board that’s actually going to stand up and defend the rights of the most vulnerable.”