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Petition launched following anti-LGBTQ2 rhetoric at Ontario school board meeting

Click to play video: 'Students launch petition following anti-LGBTQ2S+ rhetoric at school board meeting'
Students launch petition following anti-LGBTQ2S+ rhetoric at school board meeting
WATCH: Students launch petition following anti-LGBTQ2S+ rhetoric at school board meeting – Mar 29, 2023

Two students have launched a petition following a York Catholic District School Board meeting last month, where some parents were heard sharing anti-LGBTQ2 views.

Parents speaking at the Feb. 28 meeting said they were upset over stickers with the words “safe space” written on it. The stickers were given to teachers by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, the union representing Catholic school teachers.

Following the board meeting, video began circulating and Grade 12 students Isio Emakpor and Patrick Mikkelsen were motivated to do something about it.

“I was really disturbed,” Emakpor said. “I was angry and I spoke with Patrick almost immediately.”

The students launched a petition pushing back on the comments made during the meeting but also calling for the Pride flag to be raised in June.

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“During the 28 February 2023 board meeting, we as Catholics were challenged to question our values following speeches of homophobia, transphobia, and sexism. As a result, many students, teachers, and parents have been harmed, and it is the duty of the YCDSB to create a safe and welcoming environment,” the petition said.

“We all believe inclusion, support and representation is important for these students is key, especially in a school environment,” Mikkelsen said.

Since launching the petition, it’s received over 600 signatures and support from students and teachers.

“Everyone is just really rallying behind this cause because we all believe inclusion, support and representation is important for these students is key, especially in a school environment,” Mikkelsen said.

Dina Mayr, a teacher with York Catholic District School Board said she has signed the petition and is supporting the students’ cause.

“I have a transgender son who attended this school and I felt he was lucky because I am teacher at this school and I was able to work behind the scenes and give him a safe space and there are a lot of students who just don’t have that,” she said.

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According to Egale Canada, 64 per cent of students continue to hear homophobic or transphobic comments daily or weekly at school, and 35 per cent of students who attend Catholic schools reported experiencing harassment based on their perceived sexual orientation.

“We know that there is a massive problem in our education system, from coast to coast to coast,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director at Egale Canada.

“We know that in Catholic schools in particular, 35 per cent of the students who are perceived to be members of community experience harassment compared to 18 per cent of students in non-Catholic schools. As educators and school boards, we cannot afford to ignore that.”

The video of the school board meeting has been removed from YouTube, the York Catholic District School Board said in a statement.

“On March 3, 2023, the YCDSB released a statement acknowledging that the statements of delegates at the February 28 Board Meeting violated our Code of Conduct.  … The YCDSB has removed the YouTube video of the February 28 Board Meeting because the comments in it violate our Code of Conduct and infringe upon the privacy rights of staff,” the statement said.

“The Safe Space stickers were produced and distributed by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’
Association.  … The Director of Education has determined that whether these stickers are displayed or not displayed is a decision of the individual classroom teacher. We have asked everyone to be respectful of one another.”

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Emakpor and Mikkelsen said they are focused on pushing for the Pride flag to be on display at the York Catholic District School Board in June.

“We want them to stop saying they care about LGBTQ students and showing that they care about LGBTQ students,” Emakpor said, who added both she and Mikkelsen will be graduating at the end of the year and they are committed to helping future students.

“We want to leave a safe space”

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