Introducing a motion to respect the right of Catholic schoolteachers to choose to join the WorldPride parade on June 29 was a “no brainer” for Frank Johnson, a trustee on the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.
He introduced the motion at a board of directors meeting May 26 in response to a letter sent from Parents as First Educators asking the board to sanction the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association for marching in the parade.
The teachers’ association’s decision to participate in WorldPride has caused controversy in the Catholic community. Toronto cardinal and archbishop Thomas Collins said the teachers had an “inadequate and mistaken understanding of their faith,” in a statement released to press in late March.
Parents as First Educators, actively opposed to the teachers’ participation in Pride, sent the same letter requesting sanctions to Catholic school boards in Halton, Huron-Superior, London and York.
So far, the London and York Catholic school boards are the only ones to pass motions asking their local teachers’ association units not to march in the parade. Representatives from neither school board returned calls for comment.
Halton and Huron-Superior’s Catholic school boards chose not to oppose the teachers’ decision. Lindsay Liske, the chair of the Huron-Superior Catholic District Board, says it was important that they continue to promote an inclusive school environment. “It’s not our position to tell a person [what to do] or judge an individual,” he adds.
But Waterloo is the only Catholic school board to pass a counter-motion. The Waterloo trustees voted eight to one in favour of respecting the teachers’ decision to march in the parade. Trustee Greg Reitzel cast the sole vote against.
Two student trustees, whose votes count toward passing a motion but are only rarely recorded, requested to be included as recorded votes. Their votes brought the total up to 10 to one in favour.
As a former high school principal and teacher, Johnson says he understands the importance of creating an inclusive and welcome environment.
“I have worked with a number of staff who identify as LGBTQ,” he says, adding that he also had students come out to him. He feared that if the board did nothing to counter Parents as First Educators, staff and students might worry that they are not accepted in Waterloo’s Catholic schools.
Johnson made it clear that his motion does not specifically support teachers walking in the Pride parade. However, he does not believe that people should be sanctioned for participating in an activity on their own time.
“The Pride parade is a one-day event; it will be over when it’s over,” Johnson says. “And then we will still have kids and staff in our system who may be worried or fretful.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by a majority of Johnson’s fellow trustees. “If we signal that the LGBTQ students in our system are to be welcomed and treated with love and dignity, this will make it easier for our staff to support our students in future,” trustee Anthony Piscitelli said in a written statement during the May 26 meeting. While board chair Wayne Buchholtz could not be reached for comment, he also voted in support of the motion.
Johnson is running for reelection to the Waterloo school board in October. He knows full well that his motion may affect his chances.
“If it happens that come October people have long memories and they say, ‘You know what? We’re not going to vote for that guy,’ that’s okay,” he says. “I voted with my conscience.”