Pride flag, issue of petitions at Thornhill school


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According to the York Region District School Board (YRDSB), Stephen Lewis Secondary School (SLSS) came under some criticism from the a parent who has accused the Thornhill high school of trying to push a pro-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) agenda.

In February, in time for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at SLSS, with approval from school administrators, hung a rainbow pride flag inside the school.

The flag, says YRDSB trustee Joel Herz, was a symbol of protest against Russian president Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay propaganda legislation.

“It was put up in sympathy to the bad treatment in Russia of gays,” said Herz.

“A parent came into the school to vote on the [Thornhill] byelection,” said Herz. “They saw the flag and decided they weren’t happy.”

Shortly after, a petition appeared online on petition servince PetitionBuzz.com asking the pride flag to be removed.

The petition was brought to the attention of the school and board.

Herz said that this could have been solved face to face without stirring up much public controversy.

“The person attached to that petition didn’t talk to anyone at the school,” he said. “You know, there is a principal there that they could talk to, as well as a superintendent of the school. There are various other people that can deal with this sort of thing. Doing a petition right away is not necessarily best.”

Though the petition gathered 365 signatures in a short time, most of the comments attached were comments denouncing the petition.

YRDSB spokesperson Licinio Miguelo said that it’s difficult to validate the several hundred signatures.

“It looked like a lot of the names on that list were not legitimate,” said Miguelo.

The petition has since been removed from the site.

SLSS student Danny Arkadyev, one of the students instrumental in the placing of the flag, said that the goal of the flag was to make everyone, including heterosexual and cisgender (identifying with the gender one is born with) people, feel comfortable.

“This school is a safe space and everyone is welcomed, including the people who put up this petition,” Arkadyev said.

Within days of the original petition’s posting, a counter-petition was set up on the same site by a former student who asked the school not only to keep the flag up, but to fly it outside.

The petition gained more than 100 signatures.

Miguelo was proud of the students, former students and community members who stood up to the petition.

“It’s encouraging to see that people are taking the same inclusive approach that we’re taking. York Region District School Board is proud to have students from a very diverse range of backgrounds, so we try to be as inclusive as possible.”

According to Herz, the flag remained in the school until the end of the Paralympic Games, which wrapped up on March 16.

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