Regina Public School Board Strikes Down Pride Motion

Organizing in support of diversity is not new in educational spaces. Jael Bartnik

RPSB fails 2SLGBTQIA+ students

On Tuesday, Oct.15, the Regina Public School Board (RPSB) voted 4-3 against a motion for schools to be able to officially celebrate Pride however they deem appropriate. This motion, which sought to simply demonstrate support from the board and grant individual schools the capacity to determine how they celebrate Pride, was first brought forward in June by trustee Aleana Young, an outspoken ally within Regina’s queer community.

Young brought the motion forth after Pride celebrations this June with several parents expressing concerns, particularly Justine Taylor, who CBC has quoted as

saying, “when schools go from presenting objective information to children to subjective promotion of ideas – that’s where the line is crossed.” Taylor’s notion of queer lifestyles being promoted in public schools is uninformed and, like all such opinions, is likely deeply rooted in homophobia and transphobia.

Leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, Young stated on Twitter that she feared the vote would be close, citing a majority of emails sent by community members expressing their opinions against the motion.

Young’s fears came true when trustees Tanya Foster, Jane Ekong, and Jay Kasperski, as well as board chair, Katherine Gagne, voted against the motion, outnumbering the votes in favour from Young and fellow trustees Adam Hicks and Cindy Anderson.

Dr. Cristyne Hébert with the U of R Faculty of Education was in attendance at last Tuesday’s vote and shares in the anger and frustration expressed by several parents and community members.

“I was deeply disappointed at the result of the vote. I think what was being asked of Regina Public was, frankly, the bare minimum.”

Hébert noted that this vote contradicts RPSB’s commitment to the safety of their 2SLGBTQIA+ population, a commitment that was read several times throughout the meeting. As outlined on their website, RPSB is “committed to ensuring schools and workplaces are safe, inclusive environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, trans-identified, transsexual, two-spirited, intersex, and queer staff, students, families and allies feel included, protected and respected.”

The overwhelming rationale given by those who voted against the motion was a want for stronger policy and clearer guidelines. Gagne has made several comments stating that a “no” vote is not a stop in the “conversation,” but rather a chance for it to be expanded.

Whatever the hell that means.

Young argues that these excuses are unfounded, adding  that the motion was introduced in June, meaning that board members have had more than three months to better understand how the school board could support schools in celebrating Pride.

As observed by Hébert, “Trustee Adam Hicks offered an opportunity for those who required some clarity to make an amendment to the motion at the time of the vote and there wasn’t a response given. So, to me that was concerning. If there is a particular issue, then let’s address the issue and move forward. The other point that was raised was that the motion was initially proposed in June and so Hicks said as well, ‘you’ve had a number of months if you’ve had some concerns to have a conversation.’ One [trustee] said, ‘it was the summer, people were on holidays.’ That may be the case, but this is your position as a trustee to take a look at the motions beforehand to make informed decisions about what you’d like to see happen.”

“I think Aleana Young said this as well, ‘we need to see ways of moving this forward, and so simply saying that we don’t have enough information and that we need to take some more time doesn’t provide any clarity with respect to what people are looking for.’”

“[Young] also mentioned the decision to allow schools to fly the Treaty Four flag and made a comparison. We’ve affirmed schools’ right to fly the Treaty Four flag and to make decisions about how individual schools affirm their understanding that they are on Treaty Four territory and so what’s different about this particular situation? If we don’t have to have strict regulations around what that looks like for individual schools in that case, why does that need to happen here?”

Hébert said that, as an educator, she is always interested in what research has to say. “There was only one trustee [Adam Hicks] who made reference to research around youth suicides and what it is that LGBTQ youth need in schools to feel supported.”

“If we’re taking some of those statistics into consideration, LGBTQ youth are three to four more times likely to attempt suicide and for trans youth in particular that’s six times more likely than their straight and cis peers.”

Hébert considers the connections between bullying and suicide. “The statistics sort of vary: 40 to 70 per cent of LGBTQ youth experience bullying and harassment. And then we have all sorts of research that demonstrates what can help ameliorate these risks: increased support from teachers, from family members, from peers, from friends, creating safe spaces in schools, anti-harassment policies, anti-bullying policies, [professional development] for teachers, psychological and social services, health education, training for future teachers . . . Frankly, the public is not asking Regina Public to do any of these things in this motion, it’s simply asking them to affirm schools’ right to celebrate Pride.”

“I worry about the message that it sends to youth. I worry that they aren’t going to feel safe in school spaces and that if we can’t take this first step to acknowledge the importance of celebrating Pride, how are we going to start taking steps to ensure that GSAs are able to exist in schools. I worry that LGBTQ youth don’t feel safe and won’t feel as though Regina Public Schools are safe for them.”

This story has received ample attention over the course of the week and is continuing to develop, specifically sparking questions around Katherine Gagne’s leadership. The Carillon will continue to cover these events as they break.

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