Hamilton public school board, city hall raise more inclusive version of flag for Pride month

HWDSB is marking Pride month by raising the Progress flag in front of its headquarters - a flag that represents the diversity of the LGBTQ2 community. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) has marked the beginning of Pride month by raising a version of the Pride flag that recognizes more marginalized members of the LGBTQ2 community.

On Wednesday, school officials raised the Progress flag in front of the education building — a flag that not only has the traditional rainbow but also has a chevron that incorporates the pink, white and blue trans flag, as well as black and brown stripes for Two-Spirit, Indigenous, Black, and racialized members of the community.

The Progress flag is an updated version of the Pride flag that is more inclusive of Two-Spirit, Indigenous, Black, racialized and transgender members of the LGBTQ2 community. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Trustee Maria Felix Miller was one of those who spoke during the flag-raising ceremony and said the symbolism behind the Progress flag is hugely important.

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“It acknowledges that the intersectionality of many of our lived experiences, of our students or staff and our community members and their families, are very important,” she said.

“They’re nuanced. And the reality is that we need to celebrate Pride today through June 30th, but we need to live it every day in our schools and in our communities.”

Read more: How the 2SLGBTQQIA+ term can be both helpful and harmful

Also among the speakers was interim director of education Sue Dunlop, who has identified as a member of the queer community ever since she started working in the education sector in 1988 — a time when people were rarely, if ever, out and open about their sexuality.

“There was a lot of justifiable fear of the consequences. And now, in 2022, I can be out and I can share what I wish about my family and partner and celebrate that with others and celebrate all that with you today. That’s such a difference.”

Both Miller and Dunlop acknowledged that, despite the progress that’s been made, those who are LGBTQ2 — especially people who are trans or people of colour — continue to experience oppression, hatred, and violence as a result of their identities.

Last year, there was a 35-per cent increase in hate crimes reported to Hamilton police , including an incident involving a Pride flag being stolen and stomped on in Waterdown.

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This year, there have also been a couple of cases of homophobic vandalism outside Hamilton schools, and students at Westmount Secondary School held a walkout about a month ago to protest what they said was a lack of action from school administration in addressing homophobia and discrimination.

Read more: Police hate crime unit investigating, reviewing vandalism outside Hamilton schools

Arin, a high school student who is trans and non-binary and uses he/they pronouns, highlighted the need for more progress to support students who are LGBTQ2 and may be feeling isolated.

“I have always been transgender, but I had no way to express myself or explain how I was feeling in elementary school, so I felt very alone in my struggles,” they said.

“The suicide rate among queer, but especially trans youth, is disproportionately high because we feel alone and voiceless. And that must change.”

Part of that change is the gradual incorporation of more “positive space clubs” — not just in secondary schools, but in elementary schools across the board.

While he’s had a lot of support from school officials as he’s transitioned in recent years, Arin said that he and many of his fellow LGBTQ2 peers would have benefitted from a space where they could be themselves and learn from other members of the community at a much younger age, saying “we do not just become queer when we enter high school.”

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Earlier this year, Hamilton’s Catholic school board voted to raise the Pride flag outside all of its schools for the first time ever.

At the time, trustee Mark Valvasori — who brought forward the motion behind the decision — said the act of raising the Pride flag shouldn’t be a political statement, but rather about letting LGBTQ2 kids and teachers at the Catholic board know they’re loved, accepted, and supported at school.

“We can’t forget about our students, and we can’t forget about our staff — all of them.”

Read more: Hamilton Catholic school board votes in favour of flying Pride flag in June for first time ever

The city of Hamilton is also raising the Progress flag at city hall this year, alongside the trans flag, and the Hamilton sign will also be lit up with Pride colours across 11 days of the month.

“I wish to thank the LGBTQ Advisory Committee for working with the City to develop programming that will be new, inclusive of diversity, and hopefully meaningful for all members of the LGBTQ2SIA+ community,” wrote Mayor Fred Eisenberger in a statement.

“While we have more work to do towards building a community where all members feel safe, supported, a deep sense of belonging, and celebrated, my hope is that each member of the LGBTQ2SIA+ community has a happy Pride Month.”

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Click to play video: 'How the Pride flag came to be and how it continues to evolve' How the Pride flag came to be and how it continues to evolve
How the Pride flag came to be and how it continues to evolve – Jun 1, 2022

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