Free Mom Hugs
Dear HCDSB Trustees,
We have a motion of our own.
We will not be accepting amendments.
PS - You should have listened to Sarah & Dan Levy's Mom.
Whereas, Oakville HCDSB student Nic Hotchkiss bravely presented a delegation to the board requesting a Pride flag be flown at their high school as a symbol of support for LGBTQ2S+ staff and students.
Whereas., Trustee Brenda Agnew subsequently filed a motion to fly the Pride flag at all HCDSB schools and put up Safe Space posters in all HCDSB classrooms.
Whereas, three more delegations were made supporting this motion, along with hundreds of letters and emails that were sent from staff, parents, LGBTQ2S+ students and allies telling their firsthand stories about needing more support, tolerance and safe spaces in their school communities.
Whereas, Trustees that were obviously against this motion passing continuously used stall tactics throughout both meetings and voted against extending the first meeting, cutting the discussion short and the vote on the motion was not made until a special follow-up meeting was called.
Whereas, the outpour from the HCDSB community (and beyond) in support of the motion was staggering. Student Trustee Kirsten Kelly started a petition that received over 16,000 signatures. One of our tweets supporting their petition has over 2 million views after being retweeted by Canadian celebrities, including proud "rainbow parents" Colin Mochrie, Deborah Devine and Eugene Levy, as well as Dan Levy and Sarah Levy.
Whereas, a Facebook Frame with #FlyTheFlag was created by a HCDSB student and member of our youth advisory committee, was added to over 1000 profile pictures in under a week.
Whereas, many opposing this motion used sexist, homophobic and transphobic hate speech, while continuously gaslighting and using other bullying tactics, while ignoring the pleas from children in the board that they need this small step forward, further proving that HCDSB schools are not a safe space for the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Whereas, Student Trustee Kelly bravely pleaded with Trustees at the April 26th, 2021 meeting, reminding them that their community needs these Pride flags visible to students and Safe Space poster in every classroom, without compromise.
Whereas, Trustees have failed to pass a motion that would cause no harm to anyone, but could cause so much harm to a marginalized and vulnerable community.
Whereas, one poster per school and staff training is not an acceptable amendment to this important motion.
Whereas, our members include HCDSB parents of LGBTQ2S+ children and HCDSB staff who work and live in a country that recognizes marriage equality and human rights laws, but many feel they must remain closeted at school/work.
Whereas, The Free Mom Hugs movement began because support of the LGBTQ2S+ community was desperately needed after their church turned their backs on them.
Whereas, volunteer "huggers" have held LGBTQ2S+ strangers in their arms while they sobbed, asked to be hugged for "just one more minute" and told us it had been years since they received a parental hug because they were disowned after coming out.
Whereas, many students and staff members do not receive support at home and we are worried for their mental health and well -being now that the school board has sent a clear message that they are not fully supported at school either.
Whereas, we believe occurrences of bullying LGBTQ2S+ students will increase in schools now that this motion has been amended.
We propose the following...
Free Mom Hugs Southern Ontario will provide a safe space for HCDSB staff and students to voice their opinions on mobilizing efforts to support them (see contact form below).
Parents are encouraged to discuss with their children the importance of celebrating Pride Month to both ensure they KNOW they are loved and accepted as they are and to discourage harassment and bullying of their LGBTQ2S+ peers.
All allies are encouraged to contact mayors of Oakville, Burlington, Georgetown, Milton and Acton to request a rainbow crosswalk be painted at the intersection closest to their child's school. Parents are encouraged to fundraise to offset the costs of materials and labour, making this request easier to approve at City Hall.
All HCDSB staff and students (with their parent's permission, if safe to do so) are encouraged to dress in rainbow clothing and/or Pride/rainbow accessories on June 1, 2021.
If Ontario schools are still online on June 1st, we encourage all staff and students to change their online profile picture on Microsoft Teams that promotes inclusion and solidarity.
If schools are in person on June 1st (stay-at-home orders have been lifted), we encourage all parents and guardians to join the parent-initiated peaceful protests being organized outside of their child's school. We suggest bringing Pride flags and child-appropriate signage for 1/2 hour before school arrival time and 1/2 after dismissal. Reminder to be diligent about public safety - only doing so if legally allowed with current Covid-19 bylaws, while maintaining physical distancing from people not in their household, wearing face masks and not blocking/interfering with the safe arrival and dismissal of students by foot, bike, car or bus. As it is impossible for FMHSO organizers to have representation at every school protest to ensure rules are being followed,, you are reminded to organize a protest safely with parents in your school community. These are suggestions; not a FMHSO planned event.
To withdraw your child from a publicly-funded school board that inherently does not believe in Canada's basic human rights and freedoms or in the very least, campaign and vote for trustees that have ALL children's best interests in mind. Watch this page for more info. We have been taking notes.
To adjust your taxes to support public schools vs Catholic.
To join the movement #NoFlagNoFunding by signing and sharing this petition.
To bookmark and return to this space for more strategizing and support after we have read the feedback given in the form below..
To consider purchasing one of our Pride lawn signs before May 12th to show the LGBTQ2S+ community that they are loved, accepted and celebrated as they are. All fundraising contributes to our programs and events that support the LGBTQ2S+ community..
Design credit by Nic Hotchkiss
Dear staff and students of HCDSB,
What can we do to support you? What action would you like us to take next? We want to do more than send our love and virtual hugs (although we ARE sending you all our love and the biggest virtual hugs). We are here for you. We are listening.
Please fill out the contact form below with your thoughts and ideas. You may remain anonymous if you wish.
FMHSO Executive Committee
(aka The Moms)
Two of our Youth Committee members, Teia and EJ, have added their voices to the HCDSB debate over raising a Pride flag this coming June. Teia joined her mom to delegate the motion on April 20th. EJ wrote a letter that was included in the agenda for the next meeting when it will be decided. EJ also designed a FB frame that has been added by over 800 people in just a couple days.
Click here to watch Teia in action. EJ's letter is below.
So proud of our advocates!
Friday, April 23rd, 2021
Re: Supporting Our Diverse School Community
Dear HCDSB Trustees and Staff,
My name is EJ and I am a grade 8 student in a HCDSB school. I am a proud ally of the LGBTQ2S+ community and a member of Free Mom Hugs Southern Ontario’s Youth Advisory Committee. After watching the last school board meeting with my parents, I asked if I could delegate at the next one to share my thoughts on what I heard. Thank you for including this letter in your meeting agenda instead of my delegation presentation.
Through my volunteer work with Free Mom Hugs Southern Ontario, I have learned that although we live in Canada, there is still a lot of discrimination towards the LGBTQ2S+ community. So much so that our group offers hugs as allies (pre-Covid) because sometimes when LGBTQ2S+ people come out to their families, they are not supported or even hugged by them anymore. I have been to Pride events in Hamilton with my family and have never seen anything that the Catholic Church would say is sinful or wrong.
I think flying the flag every June, like Halton Public District School Board already does, does not go against what we are taught in our faith. Even if the Catholic Church doesn’t support gay marriage or unwanted children being adopted by someone who is gay, neither of those things affect kids in school because you have to be an adult to get married or adopt. What DOES affect kids is feeling loved and accepted as a child of a gay couple and kids feeling loved and accepted when they realize they are a part of the LGBTQ2S+ community. We learn in Religion and Family Life, that sex is saved for after marriage. So, this motion isn’t about that, it’s about supporting kids that are LGBTQ2S+ and a reminder to all staff and students that everyone is loved in our schools.
I know some people in our school board think LGBTQ2S+ kids should go to a public school if they don’t feel accepted at their Catholic school, but often, they don’t have a choice about what school they go to. Their parents decide for them. They obviously don’t know they are part of the LGBTQ2S+ community when they start in kindergarten, so even if their parents let them switch schools, I don’t think it’s fair that they have to leave all their friends and not have a faith-based education because of who they are. In my school, I have heard hateful language and slurs against LGBTQ2S+ people by other students. I think there’s a lot of this kind of thing going on without the staff knowing, just because our LGBTQ2S+ friends have asked us to not “out them”. Flying a flag and putting up Safe Space posters is a first step towards our board being truly inclusive. Hopefully when people see the flag, they will be encouraged to act more inclusively and not bully LGBTQ2S+ people anymore.
I know the cost of large flags is expensive, but I think we could ask parents to organize an online fundraiser at each school or we could have a Spirit/Civvies Day and ask families to donate a loonie or toonie towards the cost of the flag at their school. Or I would be willing to create a GoFundMe page for this important cause to share on Free Mom Hugs Southern Ontario’s social media, which I know will get attention and support.
If this motion is approved, I think it will not only be a good thing for the LGBTQ2S+ kids to feel seen, heard and more included, but for everyone in our school board to recognize that we are inclusive and will not stand for bullying the LGBTQ2S+ community anymore. We have an opportunity for our school board to be leaders here, putting into action what our Pope, Bishop and many priests believe…that we are to love everyone, just as they are.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on this very important subject. I appreciate that you are giving HCDSB students a voice in this, as it impacts us and our friends the most.
March 21, 2021
We at Free Mom Hugs Southern Ontario strongly embrace diversity and inclusion for all. We believe that everyone should be respected, welcomed and feel included as their true authentic selves. Our motto is “promoting love and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, one hug at a time”. While many believe every Canadian parent would accept AND celebrate their child after coming out, our group’s existence would not be necessary if that were true.
This past week, we were saddened to hear that Pope Francis of the Catholic Church has signed a 9-page document outlining that the church will continue to deny blessing LGBTQ+ marriages because (in their opinion) “it is rooted in sin”. Marriage equality was legalized nationwide in Canada on July 20, 2005. While we are not surprised that the church will not change their archaic stance, we were surprised about some additional information that we have learned in regards to publicly-funded Catholic schools in our area.
As LGBTQ+ adolescents are at a much higher risk of dying by suicide, it is our intention to educate parents about what is happening and what avenues they can take to voice their concerns.
Last week, a disturbing letter was distributed to parents at an Oakville Catholic school outside after dismissal time. The letter was addressed to parents/guardians and was not signed by a group or an individual. It was discussing the school board’s message inviting parents to provide input on proposed changes to Policy II-45 – Equity and Inclusive Education. The letter claims, “the board directive suggests hiring teachers on the basis of their colour, gender identity and expression, not on academic and experience merit, thus leading to the degradation of their teaching quality”. The letter continues, “In addition to the hurting brought by reversed-discrimination, giving preference to teachers CLAIMING to be part of the LGBT+++ community, the practice would have the purpose of increasing the GENDER-BENDING effects currently trying to influence our children through the communications media. And what about a claimed reversal later on, since gender identity is said to be able to change by the day?”
The language, tone and message of his letter is very troublesome to us. So-called “reversed discrimination” hiring practices do not seem to be an issue with Catholic school boards, as many LGBTQ+ staff members have told us that they do not feel safe to discuss who is in their immediate family (or even who they are legally married to) at work as others are. Some purposely live outside of the city they teach in, so parents or administrators do not see them with their family in the community. Catholic teachers are encouraged to teach the sexual education units through a “Catholic lens”, so the Ontario curriculum is being delivered differently depending on what (again, publicly-funded) school board the student attends. Although Catholic school boards have inclusion policies, the LGBTQ+ staff and students do not feel they are fully included in these policies. According to CBC News, as of June 2020, “the Thunder Bay Catholic School Board is believed to be the only Catholic board in Ontario that flies the rainbow flag at its board office”. There are many trustees of Catholic school boards that monopolize school board meetings addressing issues against reproductive rights, end of life rights and even initiating motions to have teachers evaluated based on their spirituality and beliefs. The letter distributed last week certainly has a similar tone to many of the trustees that are constantly showing their true colours and personal agendas.
What can you do?
Research your local Catholic Trustee candidates before you vote at the next election. We will try to provide more information about who has voted for and against inclusive practices, if any current trustees run again. Reach out to them and ask what their thoughts on LGBTQ+ inclusion entails in the Catholic school board they are trying to represent.
Contact Catholic school staff, board administrators and trustees to express your concern that LGBTQ+ students and staff feel safe, welcomed and loved at school. Ask how they are personally ensuring the safety of the students in their care. Remind them that suicide rates among LGBTQ+ students are much higher and their actions could literally be life and death.
If your child attends a Catholic school, check in with them. Ensure they know you believe LOVE IS LOVE and you will always accept and celebrate who they are.
The absence of a pride flag outside of Catholic schools during the month of June speaks volumes. Contact your local mayor to suggest intersections closest to Catholic high schools be considered for the next locations for rainbow crosswalks. These students may be called sinners at church, school or even at home, so let them see a beautiful sign of inclusion from their city or town every day.
Sending love, light and of course hugs,
Karol DeStefano, Chapter Co-Founder
Free Mom Hugs Southern Ontario