'There's still a lack of inclusion': Controversy continues over Pride flag comments at school board meeting
KITCHENER -- Comments made at the Waterloo Catholic District School Board meeting on Monday night have sparked outrage and disappointment.
School board trustees unveiled an altered version of the Pride flag, which looks much different from the traditional rainbow.
Sarah Mathers says she always wanted to see more inclusion while she was a student at Resurrection Catholic Secondary School in Kitchener.
“We were not allowed to fly the Pride flag in front of our school,” she says. “Me and my peers felt that wasn’t showing support to the LGBTQ+ students in our community.”
She has since graduated, but felt disappointment all over again when she heard about comments made at the meeting.
“If it came to us flying the Pride flag, with my belief that pride is the deadliest of the deadly sins, I honestly would have to resign because I could not support a decision to actually fly a Pride flag,” said school board trustee Greg Reitzel.
Anthony Moore, the president of Tri-Pride, was also disappointed by those sentiments.
“There isn’t space for intolerance like those types of comments,” he says. “I would imagine that much of the LGBTQ+ community would actually applaud the resignation from someone making those kinds of comments.”
Moore says the rainbow colours of the Pride flag are known worldwide and it is a symbol of inclusiveness during the month of June.
Carly Pettinger, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, says Reitzel’s opinion could have wide-reaching impact.
“I’m incredibly worried about local queer students and how his comments are going to further hurt them,” she says.
In a statement, the board says they are acting on behalf of students who: “have articulated previously their desire to see our school fly some outward symbol that reflects out lived reality of inclusion, and which shares that message with the broader community. WCDSB will therefore fly the following flag for the entire month of June at each of its building and school locations.”
That flag is the one presented at Monday night’s meeting.
Kitchener mayor Berry Vrbanovic took to Twitter to express his disappointment over the decision not to fly the Pride flag. His tweet reads: “As a Catholic and a grad of WCDSB, I am very disappointed to learn of the decision not to fly the Pride flag. Our schools need to be welcoming spaces for all, including our LGBTQ2+ community. Looking forward to raising the Pride flag at Kitchener City Hall on June 1st.”
Brock McGillis is the first openly gay professional hockey player in the OHL. He travels to schools across the province to speak about ‘coming out’ and inclusiveness.
"Greg Reitzel's comments shocked me, that he was so overtly homophobic in his tone and language,” he says. “I don't think [he] realizes his comments are impacting students in that school board."
In a statement, school board Chair Bill Conway said that Reitzel was speaking specifically about pride, not LGBTQ2+ 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," the statement reads. "Trustee Reitzel does not believe a person identifying as LGTQ2+ is a sin, and deeply apologies to anyone that may have interpreted his comments that way."
For his part, Reitzel says he is "deeply saddened" that his words hurt anyone, and says that the comments were taken out of context.
McGillis also says that he often talks to students who are seeking change but continue to struggle.
“I’m not surprised,” he says. “There’s still a lack of inclusion. That said, it has to change.”
Many people are still hoping the board reconsiders its position and decides to fly the traditional Pride flag.
Social media is also weighing in on the controversial comments made by Reitzel with some calling for the trustee to resign.