Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools responds to rainbow tent backlash

An internal message from Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools that told class field trips going to the Nutrien Children’s Festival to stay away from the rainbow tent was met with backlash Thursday, and in turn garnered a statement from the school division.

“The development of the human person and interpersonal relationships are topics that must involve families. We honour parents and caregivers as first and primary educators of their children. Families who send their children to Catholic schools have a reasonable expectation that the education their children receive is consistent with Catholic teachings and is age-appropriate. Therefore, parents and caregivers are best positioned to decide on their children’s participation in this programming within the festival,” wrote Francois Rivard, the director of education.

Click to play video: 'Catholic school email warning of 2SLGBTQ tent sparks outrage'

Catholic school email warning of 2SLGBTQ tent sparks outrage

Rivard said the message was never intended to be viewed as one of judgement, hate or exclusion, and apologized and acknowledged the hurt that it caused.

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“As a school division, we continue to welcome members of the 2SLGBTQ community. We are committed to true dialogue in order that we may pastorally serve each family based on their unique needs. We strive to build positive relationships with all students. It is not only our imperative as educators, it is our call as Catholics to recognize the inherent, god-given dignity of all persons.”

Before the GSCS statement was released, Fran Forsberg, family coordinator for the Saskatoon Pride Festival addressed the message to stay away from the tent, calling it hypocritical.

“It’s very hypocritical of the Catholic school board to take this stance. The Catholics have done more harm to the children of this country than any other organization.”

She said they aren’t following their own mandate and said this is causing some children to not feel normal, and potentially putting these kids at risk.

On the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School website under their Mission and Vision statements, it talks about being welcoming.

“All are welcome, especially those most in need,” reads the website.

Click to play video: 'Saskatoon trans community member shares their experience dealing with hate, discrimination'

Saskatoon trans community member shares their experience dealing with hate, discrimination

“We reach out to all. Catholic educators see it as their mission to welcome all of God’s children, especially those who are struggling to find their way.”

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The school division has another section of their website talking about safe, positive schools.

“Every student has the right to a safe, positive school environment. With Jesus as our primary example and his teachings as our guide, we try to establish each school community as a place where everyone can feel accepted, respected and valued—simply because they are a beloved child of God with an inherent dignity.”

“It takes the whole community to realize this goal. Students, families, teachers and staff each have the responsibility to contribute to the safe, positive school environment we all want for our children. Building safe school communities involves developing social skills and addressing bullying behaviour, resolving conflict, and being prepared for emergencies,” the website added.

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Forsberg said diversity and inclusion are important, especially from an education, as well as religious standpoint.

“The more things are talked about and brought out into the open, (the more) we have an understanding of each other.”

She said that GSCS shouldn’t be taking taxpayer money if they won’t accept everyone.

“Don’t accept public funding then if you’re not going to accept everybody.”

Saskatoon Pride also sent a statement on the topic, appealing to educators to “think critically, and outside of the narrative you have been given by administrators”.

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“We understand this can be a difficult time for our educators, so we extend our support to you should you have any questions moving forward,” read the statement.

“The Rainbow Tent at the Nutrien Children’s Festival is a welcoming and accepting safe space for children, parents, educators, volunteers and friends. We hope that educators within the GSCS will be able to share acceptance and unity with their students while attending the festival.”

OUTSaskatoon also sent out a statement about the issue, saying it is important to embrace curiosity, normalize differences and encourage respect.

“There have been and will continue to be many 2SLGBTQ children and youth who go through the GSCS educational system. Many 2SLGBTQ teachers and family members work for and support the system as well,” read the statement.

“OUTSaskatoon recognizes the dilemma that teachers, families and others work through when discussing issues related to identity. Those conversations are complex and yet critically important for the well-being of children and youth.”

The union representing support staff at GSCS called for a retraction of the internal message sent by the school division, adding that the message creates a hostile environment for 2SLGBTQ staff and students that are a part of GSCS.

“The mission statement of the GSCS speaks of being welcoming. How can they claim to be welcoming when they are encouraging discrimination?” read the statement from CUPE president Judy Henley.

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The statement added that CUPE education workers are sponsors of the Nutrien Children’s Festival, which includes the rainbow tent.

“CUPE education workers are also organizing a ‘Pride in our Schools’ public community barbeque on June 17 in conjunction with Saskatoon’s Pride week and will be joining the Pride parade. The event will occur at Kinsmen Park, next to the Nutrien Wonderhub from 11:30 in advance of the Pride parade. Everyone is welcome – just like everyone should be welcomed in our schools.”

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