An online petition has surfaced asking a Thornhill high school to “stop the propaganda” by removing its rainbow flag.
Launched on Feb 14, the petition asks administrators at Stephen Lewis Secondary School to remove the flag, which it says hangs above the school’s main hall.
“Students are entitled to their own opininions [sic] and having this banner is inflicting [sic] that Stephen Lewis Secondary School as a unit is supporting gays,” reads the petition text.
Cecil Roach, superintendent for inclusivity at the York Region District School Board, says the board was approached by a parent who demanded the flag be taken down shortly before the online petition was launched. The school’s gay-straight alliance (GSA) had the flag put up in solidarity with Russian LGBT people during the Sochi Olympics, Roach says.
The petition claims this is propaganda.
“This petition does not impose anything against the Gay-Lesbian community, however the hanging flag is a form of propaganda which creates an unwelcoming environment for straight individuals. The pride flag promotes homosexuality and gives these individuals unfair and special rights.”
A board spokesperson said it considers all feedback it receives and decides how to respond based on the legitimacy of the feedback.
“We also try to ask people to deal directly with their schools,” spokesperson Licinio Miguelo says. “I don’t know about the legitimacy of the signatures.”
As of midday March 7, the petition has netted 349 signatures, though many are simply vulgar comments instead of names. Meanwhile, scores of people have condemned the petition in its comment section.
“I’m very disappointed in my compatriots for signing, much less starting this petition in the first place,” wrote Alex Simakov. While no author is indicated on the petition, the first seven signatures are names of Russian origin.
“I can understand how such narrow-mindedness is an issue back home but I expect better from the Russian community of Toronto,” Simakov wrote.
Roach says his board has 31 GSAs and is working to make inroads with LGBT students in elementary schools, after implementing a series of policies and groups for high-school students.
“Canada’s a free country, and diversity of opinion is what makes us who we are. We as a board are committed to diversity,” Roach says. “Our board is an inclusive place, and we’re particularly sensitive to the needs of our LGBT students.”
Though the petition does not indicate the location of Stephen Lewis Secondary School, it includes a photo of the rainbow flag, which sits next to the crest of a Thornhill school. Another public school with the same name is located in Mississauga.
The school’s namesake, Stephen Lewis, is a former diplomat and politician. Lewis served as the UN’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa from 2001 to 2006. Xtra contacted Lewis midday March 7; he has not replied as of publication time.
Students at Toronto-area school boards have taken officials to task in recent years over restrictions on starting GSAs.
In 2011, Catholic boards came under fire for policies either banning LGBT groups or allowing only those that didn’t use the word “gay” in their names. An Xtra investigation found that Ontario’s Catholic bishops forbade the province’s 29 Catholic boards from allowing GSAs.
While most GSA disputes involve Catholic schools, a principal at a school under the York Region District School Board tried to block a GSA in 2007.
Last month, a gay Mississauga student filed a discrimination complaint against the Catholic francophone school board for southwest Ontario. The school allegedly tried to prevent students from starting a GSA.