Red Deer school board says it will not reconsider decision on Pride week
RED DEER -- The Red Deer Public School Board will not reconsider its decision of not having a district-wide Pride week leaving many in the LGBTQ+ community frustrated.
In February, the Red Deer Public School Board received backlash after it defeated a motion to have a Pride week. Instead, the board voted in favour of a diversity week during the first week of June.
On Wednesday, the board listened to four presentations from supporters of Pride week, but ultimately decided to stick with its initial decision.
“It’s really sending a message to the people in their district that really says by failing to recognize Pride week or even a Pride day that pride isn’t worthy of being celebrated,” said Shannon Humphrey of the Central Alberta Pride Society.
"It’s not worthy of being recognized and that’s a really negative message.”
Humphrey was one of the individuals who presented to the board. Humphrey asked the board to reconsider their decision and have Pride week during the first week of June.
“While our Pride week is generally in August, we’re very open to discussing options to making pride celebrations more accessible to everyone including our students,” Humphrey said.
“It’s a great way to promote unity in our community and showcases talents and creativity and really learn about queer history and empower people and their families in the community.”
Humphrey was given five minutes to present which was to be followed by a 15 minute discussion period. However, Humphrey said there was no further discussion and the board had no additional questions.
“It was a sort of ‘Thanks for coming, and we hear your concerns,’” Humphrey said.
“It almost seemed like the decision had been made before the presentations ever happened.”
Humphrey added that the Central Alberta Pride Society is not against celebrating a diversity week. In fact, Humphrey believes celebrating diversity is important, but does not agree with the board’s current approach.
“Diversity is something that absolutely should be celebrated,” said Humphrey.
“But, to kind of lump them all together is to kind of dilute the celebration because there’s so much to unpack within each of them.”
PETITION DECLARED INVALID
After the board’s initial decision in February, a group of parents in Red Deer started a petition asking the board to reverse its decision. The petition has garnered more than 3,500 signatures. However, the parents were unable to present their petition at Wednesday’s meeting because the board determined that the petition was not valid.
“Their response is that it’s basically irrelevant because a lot of those signatures didn’t stem from parents of students attending the public school system in Red Deer,” said the petition author Jennifer Prevost.
“The petition is not a lost cause because it has engaged people, internationally, which I think is huge, and it’s still gaining traction.”
Adam Hrdlicka is one of the parents involved in the petition. He said many of the signatures were from current and former residents of central Alberta.
“I think it just speaks to maybe the narrow-mindedness of the group thinking that this isn’t a local issue and that it’s an outside of the community issue which of course we know that it’s not,” said Hrdlicka.
“There were many people who signed the petition who grew up in central Alberta. They aren’t living here anymore, but that’s exactly why they signed it.”
In a press release, the Red Deer Public School Board trustees “reaffirmed its unequivocal support and commitment to LGBTQ+ students, staff and families.”
The board said it heard four presentations during a private meeting, but decided not to reconsider its decision.
“Following those presentations and discussion among trustees, the board reaffirmed its commitment to have a diversity week. The board will not reconsider its decision on Pride week.”
Following Wednesday’s meeting, the board trustees decided to support a motion to review the board’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Policy, which the board said “already received strong endorsement from champions of the LGBTQ+ community.”
“The board's intention in approving the review of an already strong policy is to ensure the policy is highly responsive to the challenges and opportunities of the LGBTQ+ community within school communities.”
CONFUSION OVER THE DECISION
However, Dr. Kristopher Wells, Associate Professor at MacEwan University and Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth, said the decision to not have a Pride week is in direct conflict with the current policy.
“Red Deer’s policy was, at one time, considered a model across Alberta which is why it’s so perplexing that they’re not even living out the intent and spirit of their policy.”
Under the current policy, individual schools can host their own Pride events and some schools are planning to later this year. However, Wells said this is a way for the board to deflect responsibility.
“It’s definitely abdicating the responsibility of board leadership by saying school’s can go ahead and create Pride weeks, which they should do,” said Wells.
“I just fail to understand on any rational measure how the board could not support this request.”
Wells believes the school board has missed an opportunity to show support for the LGBTQ+ community and youth in their district.
“It is a fundamental lack of understanding about, first, the vulnerability and risk that LGBTQ students still face in our schools,” Wells said.
“There one of the groups most likely to experience harassment, discrimination, bullying, violence, prejudice, and still, quite tragically, have an incredibly high suicide rate and things like Pride week are important interventions that help to reduce risk, improve mental health and wellbeing, and can make the positive difference between a youth who drops out of school and a youth who stays in school because they know that their school and community cares about them.”