Toronto District School Board trustees voted to reaffirm the board’s support for Toronto’s Pride festival in a brief but impassioned debate April 9. Trustees swiftly defeated a controversial motion targeting nudity at the Pride parade and followed this with messages of support for LGBT people.
“You could feel there was a collective understanding of our struggles,” says Joy Lachica, a Grade 8 teacher with the TDSB. “It really resonated with me. I wasn’t expecting it.”
Lachica was among about 25 demonstrators who arrived with protest signs and rainbow bracelets to oppose a motion proposed last month.
That motion would have formally requested that the city enforce public nudity laws at the WorldPride parade in June. Trustee Sam Sotiropoulos launched the proposal, noting that the board has a contingent in the parade, which he felt is not a “family-friendly event.” The motion was delayed at a March 5 meeting, giving his supporters and detractors time to launch letter-writing campaigns.
The Campaign Life Coalition, a major political group in Canada’s anti-abortion movement, had published an “action alert” asking its followers to show their support for the original motion. Fewer than five people from the group were visible within both audience areas, which were mostly pink as part of a board-endorsed national day against bullying.
Sotiropoulos introduced his motion, which was quickly defeated. He highlighted the need to follow laws and codes of conduct before touching on morality. “As a dad, I have a responsibility both to my own child and children across the district,” he said, prompting jeers from the audience. “There is nothing respectful about public nudity,” he added.
LGBT people at the meeting objected to Sotiropoulos’s claim that his remarks “have nothing to do with homophobia.”
“It’s disingenuous,” said Danielle Waters, a queer trans woman. “He not only is opposed to Pride, but to equal rights for gay people, for LGBTQI and for all the people in that acronym.”
The motion was called to question — meaning the room agreed to vote without having a discussion — and failed, with six votes in favour and 16 against.
That motion was followed by a new motion proposed by Trustee Maria Rodrigues, asking the TDSB to reaffirm its support for Pride and queer students. With a pink shirt draped over her desk and a hot-pink streak of dyed hair, an emotional Rodrigues explained the rationale behind her motion. With a cracking voice, she highlighted the irony that Pride parades gained traction because of police brutality against LGBT people.
In discussion of that motion, Trustee Harout Manougian proposed an amendment “to clarify” the motion’s introduction. He asked that it include a mention of “age-appropriate” celebration and that this sentence be removed: “In 2005 Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair marched in the Pride Parade alongside Mayor David Miller where there was no policing of public nudity.”
The amendment, which ultimately failed seven to 10, led to multiple trustees voicing their thoughts on the Pride issue. One councillor suggested those “uncomfortable with dangly bits” avert their eyes, while another said weighing in on city politics is outside the board’s mandate.
As part of the Day of Pink commemoration, the board had started the meeting by highlighting its embrace of classroom diversity and gay-straight alliances. An internal study found that 92 percent of TDSB students feel safe in their schools. “I want to know who those eight percent are. We need to do better,” said Trustee Shaun Chen. “It’s important that each student feels safe and sees themselves reflected in the curriculum we teach.”
As with last month’s meeting, Sotiropoulos contrasted a nude beach with marked signs with nudity in the streets of a city. At one point, he mentioned he’d been to a nude beach, causing the audience to erupt in laughter. He then returned to his focus on following the law. “Lots of people smoke crack; our mayor smokes crack,” Sotiropoulos alleged. “He has lots of support. But crack is illegal.”
Rodrigues closed the debate on her motion by saying everyone is welcome at Pride. She also cited a 2012 Ontario ruling that found that nudity at a rally or demonstration could be considered part of personal expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“This is about human rights and the right to express yourself,” she said.
After an hour of debate, vote counting and calls for order, the motion passed 18 to three. Demonstrators let out a faint cheer and headed home.