A Courtice, ON man has removed his 14-year-old son from O’Neill Collegiate Vocational Institute in Oshawa because the organizers of an upcoming school trip made travel arrangements through a tour operator affiliated with Rainbow High Vacations, a queer travel agency.
Dwight Budgell’s son attended Grade 9 in O’Neill’s performing arts program. The young drummer was accepted to go on a performance tour to Italy with the Grade 12 band next year. Budgell says he planned to allow his son to go until he saw that he would have to write a cheque to Rainbow High Vacations.
“As any parent would, I figured I would check out the travel agency taking my kid halfway around the world,” Bedgell told Xtra on Jul 13. “It’s the largest gay and lesbian travel agency in the world. I don’t have a problem if their company is diversified. Sears Travel has a gay and lesbian division, a Christian division, a family division. According to [Rainbow High’s] website, they only handle gay and lesbian travel and it sends a message that that’s okay.”
“I was brought up to believe it’s not right,” he continues. “If it’s their lifestyle, that’s fine. There are women who won’t buy cosmetics because they’re tested on animals. I have a right not to support a gay and lesbian travel agency. Do I think a gay and lesbian lifestyle is okay? No.”
Budgell says he attempted to question school administrators about the arrangements and about alternatives, but he says the school gave him the runaround.
“The biggest aspect is because they lied to me,” he says. “If it was just the travel agency, I just would have pulled him from the trip. I can’t write a cheque to them because it means I support that lifestyle.”
Budgell says he feared the school would punish his son because he challenged the school about the trip.
“It’s a performing arts school,” says Budgell. “If he wanted to go and get a lead in a play, he wouldn’t have any opportunity because his dad questioned the school. You question authority, you get blackballed.”
Budgell’s son will attend a different school in September, one that doesn’t have a performing arts program.
Toronto-based Rainbow High Vacations has offered educational tour packages without gay or lesbian themes through an outside agent for several years.
“This is the first time to our knowledge there has been such a homophobic response, at least this directly,” says Deb Parent, Rainbow High’s director of business operations.
Parent says Rainbow High has no plans to change its marketing in response to Budgell’s reaction.
“The teacher, the principal and the school board have all held the perspective that the arrangement that they have with us is good,” she says. “As long as we continue to have the support of the community, the teacher and the principal, we feel it is that parent and, more importantly, that child’s loss.”
The story caught the attention of a Durham newspaper, which ran a story and an editorial supporting Budgell’s decision to remove his son.
“We weren’t contacted by the Durham paper, but we have been contacted by community members and clients and we have gotten lots of support,” says Parent.
“Budgell says he has no problems with gay and lesbian people but doesn’t want to support the propaganda of gay and lesbian trips and doesn’t want to support a gay and lesbian business with his money,” says Parent. “But if you say, ‘I don’t have a problem, I just don’t want my money going there,’ I wonder how okay he really is.
“Sadly, people are entitled to their biases, but there is no legal obligation to do business with a type of business you would find offensive to you according to those biases,” says Parent.
School officials could not be contacted before press time.