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York Catholic District Board students 'deserve to be safe' after alleged violence erupts at LGBTQ2S+ walkout

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Students attending York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) schools are calling on the board to help make LGBTQ2S+ students and staff feel safer at school, after peaceful demonstrations were met with violence last week.

Last Thursday at around 1:15 p.m., groups of students across YCDSB schools walked out in protest of the board of trustees’ recent decision to not fly the Pride flag for Pride month.

On May 29, after deliberating for many months, YCDSB trustees defeated a motion to fly the Pride Progress flag outside the York Catholic Education Centre with a vote of six to four.

The “Walkout for Action” on June 8 saw students, both LGBTQ2S+ and allies, step out of their classrooms to take a stance for their “right to an inclusive and safe education,” YCDSB Students for Change said in a release.

“Though we had multitudes of support, the simple fact that harm occurred demonstrates the clear need for action on a board level for the support of 2SLGBTQ+ students. Students’ wellbeing in schools is at risk,” the joint statement reads.

Protests at St. Brother Andre CHS, Holy Cross Catholic Academy, Father Bressani CHS, Cardinal Carter CHS, St. Elizabeth CHS, St. Augustine CHS, and St. Maximilian Kolbe CHS were mentioned by YCDSB Students for Change, involving a variety of allegations of violence.

The allegations range from threats, bullying, harassment, and assault, varying per school. YCDSB Students for Change said St. Brother Andre saw “some of the worst forms of hate ever seen in the YCDSB.”

“Our student organizers reported that those against the walkout threw objects, destroyed signs, shouted slurs, berated students, and trampled a Pride flag. The hostility did not come from students who walked out, but opposing groups,” the statement reads, further alleging sticks and rocks were thrown at demonstrators.

“Students are scared to go back to school due to how the events of June 8th escalated.”

Tatiana Choi, president of Spectrum, the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and Grade 11 student at St. Brother Andre, told CTV News Toronto they did not attend school the day after the walkout.

“All of Thursday, when I got home after and I watched my school on the news, I just was crying,” Choi said. “I was just so upset. I can’t speak for my other peers – but I wasn’t scared. I was just sad [..] I just felt disrespected, and like I wasn’t listened to.”

ADDRESSING 'UNACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOUR'

In a statement to CTV News Toronto, the YCDSB said it is aware some students were harassed and assaulted during the protests, adding staff members have been “working to address this unacceptable behaviour.”

“During the walkout, YCDSB principals and vice principals were outside of their school to monitor the situation, and these principals and vice principals were able to stop incidents of harassment form escalating,” the statement reads.

The school board brought in additional mental health resources into some schools the day after the protest, adding staff have had several conversations “with their community to make it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable at YCDSB schools…”

York Regional Police (YRP) confirmed to CTV News Toronto they responded to a few reports of disturbances last Thursday and Friday at select YCDSB schools.

On June 8, at around 1:50 p.m., Sgt. Clint Whitney said officers were called to Cardinal Carter CHS in Aurora, Ont. for the demonstration – where YCDSB Students for Change said rocks were thrown, students were spit at, and threats like “Go slit your wrists” and “Get run over” were shouted – but “things were reportedly peaceful in the officers’ presence.”

The following day, YRP received a call of a disturbance near St. Brother Andre CHS that happened on June 8, where a group of youths allegedly disrupted the demonstration by damaging a Pride banner and flag.

Sgt. Whitney said a similar call was also made where youth damaged a Pride flag at St. Elizabeth CHS in Vaughan.

“Additionally, officers received a report about a youth who brought a knife to school on June 9th,” Whitney said.

The incidents at St. Brother Andre and St. Elizabeth are currently being investigated, and the YCDSB says it is fully cooperating with police.

“The YCDSB believes that every person is a child of God who is worthy of dignity and respect within a safe and caring school environment,” the YCDSB said.

'I DESERVE TO FEEL SAFE'

YCDSB Students for Change said they are “deeply saddened” to see harm like this, “in a place where students are meant to feel safe and grow in a constructive, supportive environment.”

“Youth in [the] 2SLGBTQ+ community should never be subjected to hate like what was experienced during the peaceful demonstration,” the statement reads. “Students deserve respect, dignity, visibility, and the freedom to be themselves, free from discrimination.

“As Catholics, we are taught that God loves everyone, and our faith condemns every form of violence and hate. The events that occurred in the YCDSB are shameful, and the inaction from the board further promotes the already unsafe environment.”

Choi said they would like to see the board listen to LGBTQ2S+ students’ voices more, and understand where they are coming from.

“Even if they truly believe that religion and sexuality cannot go hand-in-hand, I attend Catholic school, and I’m gay, and I deserve to feel safe and validated at my school and be recognized as both – I shouldn’t have to make a choice between the two,” Choi said.

“I feel like I’ve lost a lot of my faith because my faith didn’t have my back, and whether God or Jesus has a plan for me, or believes in me, I felt like that didn’t matter because the church and the people around me -- who are supposed to be supporting me, and were supposed to provide comfort and friendship -- it didn’t come out that way […] I want future generations to have the opportunity to just be themselves and not have to think and second-guess themselves or their religion.”

Anyone who was a victim of a crime, has information or video recordings of a crime that occurred, during these protests is urged by police to report it to them, or Crime Stoppers anonymously. 

With files from CP24's Joanna Lavoie

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