Rainbow re-design

School dispute over a ‘Catholic-version’ rainbow flag featuring Jesus

Rainbow flag design for Catholic schools
The proposed re-design by Waterloo Catholic District School Board

A school district in Ontario, Canada, had decided it will not fly a specially designed flag for LGBTQ Pride month.

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) oversees 48 schools and more than 36,000 students.

Some students and staff lobbied the board to fly Pride flags to send out a message of support during Pride Month – a gesture uncommon among faith-based schools.

For whatever reason – maybe they felt the rainbow flag was too controversial or colorful – others on the board decided a redesign was necessary.

This resulted in a new flag featuring a Christ-like figure raising his hands over a group of figures in different colors. It’s vaguely rainbow-like if you squint really hard and the rainbow was made up of, erm, 16 different colors.

Related: Small town residents threaten to sue their own kids’ financially strapped school over a rainbow flag

The new design was unveiled at a meeting of trustees last Monday evening (May, 25). It led to some impassioned exchanges.

Many of those who originally lobbied for the schools to fly a rainbow flag were unhappy. They felt the new flag was a well-intentioned but poor compromise and the school would do better by flying the original rainbow flag.

Another trustee, Greg Reitzel, threatened to resign if any pride flag was flown to celebrate June, as, “Pride is the deadliest of the deadly sins.”

Reitzel’s comments proved so inflammatory that the board has since moved to clarify them.

School board Chair Bill Conway issued a statement saying Reitzel was speaking specifically about pride, not LGBTQ pride.

“We wish to clarify that the comments made by Trustee Reitzel about pride as one of the deadliest sins was made in the context of faith and in no way made in reference to the LGTQ2+ community.

“Trustee Reitzel does not believe a person identifying as LGTQ2+ is a sin, and deeply apologizes to anyone that may have interpreted his comments that way.”

Related: Could this new more inclusive flag replace the rainbow flag?

Predictably, the new design was still not good enough to appease some local Catholic fundamentalists. Following the unveiling of the new flag, a group calling itself Campaign Life Coalition quickly gathered a petition together, saying the flag – as neutered as it is – glorified sodomy.

Writing to Bishop Douglas Crosby, who oversees the region, they said, “The Catholic Church officially dedicates the month of June to honouring the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. But this June, at every WCDSB school, the Sacred Heart of our Lord and Savior will be torn out and replaced by a “Catholic version” of the gay pride flag that subtly but unmistakably honors Gay Pride Month, in which the grave sin of sodomy will be exalted.”

The petition has gained just over 4,460 signatures.

Following the disagreements, the flag, bearing the message, “We are all wonderfully made – we loved because he first loved us (1 John 4:19)”, will be placed for the next academic year in school foyers instead.

In a statement, the school board said it will have a re-think for 2021.

“It is clear that the WCDSB’s decision to fly a provincially developed image on a flag during June, to mark Pride month, which was intended to send a message of unity and support, has instead led to division,” it said.

“Out of sincere respect for all viewpoints shared, the school board will not fly any flag during Pride month.

“The proposed flag will be displayed in school foyers throughout the 2020-21 school year, as the school board consults with the LGBTQ community on next steps leading to Pride Month 2021.”

Yesterday, the board wrote an open letter to all students to apologize for any hurt caused by last week’s meeting and the decision to redesign the flag.

“I would like to address with you our attempt to fly a different flag to acknowledge Pride month,” said Loretta Notten, Director of Education. “This gesture was a genuine response to student voices which were raised in protest last year, articulating a desire to see our Catholic schools fly the Pride flag.

“The flag was developed in collaboration with our other partners in Catholic education, not just here in Waterloo Catholic. However, the chosen image did provide a beautiful echo back to our Pastoral Plan image for “Called To Belong”, as well as the colors of the rainbow flag.

“It was work and an initiative begun with great optimism, in the sure belief that we could communicate to all our staff, students and broader community our commitment to be inclusive and to nurture our students in the love of Christ,” she continued.

Notten went on to acknowledge the origins of the rainbow flag and the significance of each of the colors used.

“While the image on the proposed flag is consistent with our faith and gospel values, and most certainly was intended to send a message of welcome, some found it problematic that it was not the actual Pride flag. For that I apologize. It was a lesson for us on intent versus impact.

“We wished to send a positive and inclusive message, but it was not received that way by some. The ensuing debate last week was painful to many and hurt many of you. For that I sincerely apologize, as that is the opposite of what we had hoped for.”