While it has been our practice to not comment on matters arising in school jurisdictions where we are no longer employed, the Red Deer Public School board’s recent decision to recognize a Diversity Week instead of a Pride Week has compelled us to add our voices to those who have expressed concern.
In 2015 we were instrumental in the development of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy. There was overwhelming support for the implementation of the policy as those consulted understood that LGBTQ students and staff have distinct needs.
The first paragraph of Policy 19- Sexual Orientation states that, “The board will provide an environment for all members of the school community to work and learn, free from fear, discrimination, and harassment, while also promoting pro-active strategies and establishing guidelines to ensure that sexual and gender minority students, employees and families are welcomed and included in all aspects of education and school life, and are treated with respect and dignity.” We fail to see how the recent decision of the board upholds the spirit and intent of this policy statement.
The March 10 board highlights indicated that the board, “…voted against having a Division-wide Pride Week and voted in favour of having a Diversity Week understanding Red Deer Public is ‘Open to All,’ recognizing the division must be respectful and supportive of each diverse group and individual.”
While this decision may be well intentioned it is clearly misguided. While each diverse group and individual deserves to be recognized, members of the LGBTQ community continue to be stigmatized, marginalized and discriminated against in greater numbers than their peers.
The purpose of Pride Week is not to suggest that the lives of LGBTQ students, staff and families are somehow more important than other groups. The purpose is to remind us all of the incredible achievements in light of the disproportionate inequity that still exists and educate the larger community on the unique issues facing LGBTQ individuals and the ways they continue to overcome these barriers.
Diversity Week, on the other hand, has as its underlying premise that all students, staff and families are equally diverse and that we simply need to celebrate everyone’s uniqueness. This perpetuates and reinforces the notion that the needs of LGBTQ students, staff and families are not unique and that the issues they face, and their accomplishments despite these issues, are no different than those of anyone else.
Pride Week provides an opportunity for a self-identifying and historically subjugated minority to lead the celebration of those who have risen out of a broken history to create a more vibrant world around us.
It is deeply saddening to us that the ground breaking work undertaken in 2015 has been largely undone through this latest action of the board.
We were proud to be part of an organization that clearly demonstrated to LGBTQ students, staff and families that their unique needs were understood and championed by the individuals entrusted with ensuring a safe and caring environment for them. It is our opinion that, by dimming the spotlight on the significant challenges and accomplishments of LGBTQ students, staff and families, the board has further perpetuated the struggles faced by these individuals.
We submitted this written concern to the board with the request to include it in the “correspondence received” section of the public school board meeting agenda. The request was not approved. We were informed that all correspondence received on this issue will be distributed to all trustees, but will not be included in the agenda.
We are deeply concerned that a publicly elected board would attempt to silence any voices of the opposition to a decision they have made. Public discourse and the ability to hold elected officials accountable are cornerstones of a democratic society.
Piet Langstraat is a former Red Deer Public Schools superintendent, Jodi Goodrick is a former Red Deer Public Schools associate superintendent and Everett Tetz is a former vice principal at École Oriole Park Elementary School.