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Flying LGBTQ rainbow stirs flag flap at school board

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Tara Jeffrey

A symbol of equity and inclusion stirred an unlikely controversy last month when the public school board was criticized for both the length of time and the way it flew the LGBTQ Pride flag.

The Lambton Kent District School Board directed its schools to raise the rainbow flag from June 1 to 5. That upset students who wanted it flown the entire Pride month of June.

Former student trustee Cole Anderson said some schools have displayed the flag all month in the past.

“After some investigation on our part, we learned that LKDSB school administration was directed to remove the flag after being flown June 1-5 at each school.”

Anderson called that ‘virtue signalling’ on the board’s part — trying to ‘be seen’ doing the right thing without truly supporting the cause.

“My hope is that the LKDSB leaves the decision to fly the Pride flag beyond one week in the capable hands of staff and students at each school,” he said.

Current and former student trustees sent a letter to trustees expressing their concern.

The move also upset former Sarnian and LGBTQ advocate Jessica Platt, the first openly transgender athlete to play in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

“Out of the goodness of my heart this year, I recorded a message for the students about the importance of Pride month,” Platt posted on Twitter.

“You won’t get any more charity from me.”

Board education director John Howitt told The Journal he directed schools and education centres to fly the flag for one week “to ensure there was a consistent approach through the system.”

It followed last year’s messaging that the flag be flown for the first week of June, Howitt said, noting the board plans to review its flag policies in the near future.

“Feedback from the community regarding the display of the Pride flag will be considered as part of that review,” he said.

Meanwhile, Royal Canadian Legion member Les Jones contacted the board about proper flag protocol after spotting a number of schools flying both the Pride and Canadian flags together.

The Canadian government states the national flag “should always be flown on its own mast or flag pole” and it’s “improper” to fly two or more flags on the same pole.

“I understand that a lot of people don’t understand this stuff. It’s just the way of the world,” said Jones, who has a lengthy military background. “I thought maybe I could offer some expertise.”

Howitt said the government protocol for flag etiquette is just a guideline, not legislation.

“We were in contact with Heritage Canada for clarification,” he said, noting the board received complaints from veterans. “They told us we do have the right to fly more than one flag on the same standard as the Canadian flag but recommended against it without a policy clearly defining that. Our policy does not.”

Howitt also received complaints about some schools failing to fly the Maple Leaf ‘in the position of precedence.’

“This was an error and we apologize for that,” he said.

The flag at one school was so faded and ripped, Jones said, he bought a new one and dropped it off.

“It’s our national symbol; our flag is recognized and respected all over the world,” he said. “I think it’s great our education system embraces acceptance and diversity, I just think it should be displayed a different way.”

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