Brian De Matos has marched in two Pride parades with the Toronto District School Board. One year he was among 20 students on a school bus, while another saw him squirting water guns atop a float.
Eight or so years later, De Matos says Canada’s largest school board is sliding backward after leaps toward equality.
The public-school board delayed a motion March 5 that would call for a formal request to enforce public nudity laws at the city’s annual Pride parade in June.
“They’re trying to regulate how people should express themselves, which is outside the TDSB’s mandate,” says De Matos, who graduated from the board’s queer-friendly high school Triangle Program.
The board promotes the Pride festival and has funded a parade float every year since 2000.
Trustee Sam Sotiropoulos proposed a motion March 4 on the premise that nudity at Pride “raises legal concerns and implications along with questions of age-appropriateness for TDSB students and their families.”
The motion formally requests that nudity laws be enforced.
“Be it resolved that the Chair immediately write a letter to the Mayor and City Council of Toronto asking them to clarify whether or not the public nudity law of Canada will be upheld and enforced at future Pride events in which the TDSB participates,” the motion reads.
Sotiropoulos told reporters March 5 that “a lot” of parents have voiced concern about allowing “children to be exposed to nudity.” He said that allegations of homophobia are “slander” and “nonsense.”
“I just want to dispel the myth that we’re asking people to change the nature of the parade or ban nudity,” he said.
De Matos and a handful of LGBT activists attended the five-hour meeting, which was ultimately overshadowed by the board’s budget vote and discussions about a controversial Somali outreach program.
“They’re trying to take away a celebration we fought so hard to get,” De Matos said.
Toward the end of the meeting, Sotiropoulos took to the lobby to tell reporters he is simply asking police to enforce Canadian law.
“I don’t believe it’s a rights issue; I believe it’s a municipal enforcement issue,” he said after a reporter asked if he realized nudity can be considered personal expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (A 2012 Ontario ruling found that nudity at a rally or demonstration can be considered part of personal expression.)
LGBT community members say Sotiropoulos doesn’t understand Pride’s history.
“Pride didn’t originate as a family event. We commemorate the Stonewall riots where people took to the streets after police arrested gay people,” says Craig Saunders, a gay man whose son attends a TDSB school.
The trustees “must not know the history if they want police to come in and arrest people when the world is here,” Saunders says, referencing this summer’s WorldPride event.
TDSB education director Donna Quan sent an email to trustees March 5 explaining that nudity has always played a small role in Pride, which “started as a liberation protest that rejects shame, bias and judgments.”
Quan defended the parade, saying the board has never received a complaint from its contingent. She also touched on another prominent event with a lot more nudity: “Toronto also has played host for the past nine years to the world’s largest nude bike ride, which aims to bring attention to environmental transportation,” Quan wrote.
Sotiropoulos’s motion was proposed with the support of trustee John Hastings. Irene Atkinson withdrew her initial endorsement at the March 5 meeting.
The motion can now be put forward at a future meeting, which could be weeks away.
Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug Ford also recently shared their discomfort with “buck-naked men.” Ford then tried to remove a rainbow flag from city hall in January — even though several other Canadian cities raised the flag in solidarity with LGBT Russians during the Sochi Olympics. Ford’s brother Doug has accused Toronto’s LGBT community of “bullying” the mayor for never attending the annual Pride parade.
Sotiropoulos declined March 5 to elaborate on the definition of “homosexism,” which he accused the LGBT community last month of perpetuating.
“One of the most divisive influences in Canada today is homosexism it’s [sic] disseminators are maliciously rabid,” Sotiropoulos posted.
Along with four TDSB security guards, two police officers attended Wednesday’s meeting for the first two hours of debate.
TDSB chair Chris Bolton had mandated that officers attend board meetings after a group of trustees, including Sotiropoulos, accused each other of harassment, intimidation and insults.