A student in a Canadian Catholic school may file a human rights complaint after being asked to remove a rainbow flag during a school ceremony.
Dylan Chevalier, who is gay and attends St. Joseph Catholic High School in Edmonton, Alberta, typically wears a pride flag as a cape during school time. As he tried to wear the flag while processing into the opening ceremony of a basketball tournament, a teacher asked him to remove it.
Chevalier said this request left him “in shock” and “quite angry” because he believes the cape “shows people you are in fact accepted at this high school” regardless of one’s gender identity.
Classmates rallied with Chevalier outside the school last week. One student, Quinn Wade, said they “thought we had come further than” violating a person’s freedom of expression.
But St. Joseph H.S. Principal Hugh MacDonald disagreed with the protesters. Disputing Chevalier’s claim that the student received permission to wear the flag, MacDonald denied that the teacher’s request had anything to do with Chevalier’s flag cape being a rainbow one. He said Chevalier has been allowed to wear the cape routinely, but told the Edmonton Journal the ceremony was “no time to show anything like that off.” MacDonald commented about the student:
” ‘We all get him. He’s not a bad kid. But he can be aggressive and he can be single-minded.’ “
Students are divided about Chevalier’s cape. While he has supporters, detractors say the cape would be “disrespectful for the event” and that reactions are “out of proportion.” Blake Morrison, who has two mothers, called the cape “insulting.”
Chevalier hopes school administrators will apologize for making him remove the cape, but that does not seem likely, according to Principal MacDonald. If the school does not offer a satisfying resolution, Chevalier may file a human rights complaint.
This incident emerges in an already tense situation for Catholic schools in Alberta. The Education Ministry is requiring all publicly funded schools, which include Catholic systems like Edmonton’s, to develop LGBTQ policies by March 31. Discussions about these have been heated. The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s meetings erupted into a “shouting match” last fall and approved “just discrimination” of some youth last December. Calgary’s bishop described recent guidelines for the LGBTQ policies as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.”
The harsh rhetoric and hyperbolic acts which have surrounded this debate for months have only hurt students like Dylan Chevalier who may already feel marginalized. Incidents like the flag controversy at St. Joseph further reveal the need for clearly articulated and supportive LGBTQ policies. Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen met with the province’s four bishops to help advance their common interest in helping all students flourish. Collaborative efforts are more effective at making all feel welcomed and affirmed, perhaps eliminating the need for rainbow flag capes and human rights complaints altogether. Less conflict is always beneficial.
I hope Alberta’s bishops and Catholic school trustees can come to see that Catholic education is actually strengthened when sexual and gender diverse students are welcomed and supported, rainbow flags and all.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry