An investigation is underway after video began circulating on social media showing a Pride flag being removed from the flag pole at a high school in London, Ont., and thrown into the trash.
Pride London vice-president Nikita Miller says that the flag is a symbol of inclusivity and acceptance, “so it’s hard to see when we take those steps back.”
The flag was taken from Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School on Tuesday, when it was at half-staff to mark the second anniversary of the London attack.
Mark Fisher, director of education for the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) said it was immediately replaced and that “we consider this to be a hate crime.”
“We are conducting a thorough investigation involving the school principal, the superintendent of the school and London police services to determine exactly what happened and the number of students that were involved. And they will be dealt with very severely,” said Fisher.
“In terms of potential consequences for these actions. It could be anything from a suspension all the way up to an expulsion from school.”
Tuesday’s incident is the latest example of a growing backlash against the recognition of the 2SLGBTQ+ community within the TVDSB.
Other local media outlets reported in May that some schools saw an unusual uptick in absences on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, suggesting that the absences were meant to be viewed as protest of schools raising the Pride flag to mark the day.
Miller said she can’t speak to “why” but guesses that “acts like this can often be boiled down to ignorance; a lack of communication; maybe an unwillingness to learn, talk, listen; fear.”
Fisher suggested that the extent of absences was misstated and that some were attributed to field trips and track and field events. However, he conceded that “there were a couple of schools where the rate of absenteeism was high.”
He also suggested that online misinformation about how May 17 would be observed was also to blame.
“All we were doing on May 17th was raising the flag as a sign of inclusion and tolerance. There were no further activities or actions planned, despite what may have been spread on social media, which led people to believe things would be happening in the schools, which frankly were not happening. And so that led to a number of schools where the absence rates were higher.”
He also added that “there are options for families to apply for religious- or creed-based accommodations if there are elements of the curriculum that counteract their faith.”
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Fisher conceded that there “are times when some of these rights, there’s a tension between them, and we try to strike the middle ground.”
“We want to make sure that we respect viewpoints and are open to different viewpoints and see how they fit together as opposed to compete and fight with one another.”
In a statement, TVDSB board chair Lori-Ann Pizzolato wrote that “hate and discrimination have no place in Thames Valley.
“Schools and workplaces need to be safe places for all students and staff regardless of gender, sexuality, or race. The Pride flag is a symbol of equity and inclusion and Thames Valley is committed to ensuring that everyone feels safe and accepted when at school and work.”
London police have confirmed that “we are aware and actively investigating the occurrence in relation to the Pride flag being taken down at Banting Secondary School,” but have provided no further details.