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‘Enough is enough’ say advocates after St. John’s school faces anti-LGBTQ backlash

A row of various LGBTQ+ pride flags.
Less than a week into Pride Month, a St. John’s school is receiving anti-LGBTQ backlash for hosting an LGBTQ-inclusive event. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

A St. John’s school is facing backlash for holding an event celebrating LGBTQ Pride — but the school is getting support from community advocates.

Last week, St. Matthew’s School held an event celebrating the LGBTQ community. The event included a dance party, drag performers and — of course — many rainbows.

But the school is facing online vitriol after several far-right social media accounts — including some with millions of followers — shared photos and videos of the event. 

Trent Langdon, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association, said Thursday the backlash has been unnerving.

“We’ve heard of threats, we’ve heard of very demeaning language, we’ve heard of … accusations,” he said.

Langdon said the teachers’ association is taking a stand against that backlash

“We know full well that the 2SLGBTQIA+ community has been dealing with discrimination for centuries,” he said.

“Enough is enough.”

A person wearing a suit and tie stands in front of a sign with the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District logo.
Terry Hall, interim CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, says the district is not aware of any immediate safety threats. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Terry Hall, interim CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, said the district doesn’t have immediate safety concerns following the backlash but is standing with the school and its LGBTQ community.

“The district is unapologetic in its celebrations of Pride. Our schools do this every day for all different communities and different students and teachers,” he said.

Those social media posts included the claim that 50 per cent of parents kept their kids home from school. In response, a spokesperson for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District said attendance that day was at typical levels for a Friday — above 80 per cent.

‘We’ve always existed’

The backlash to the event at St. Matthew’s include the accusation that LGBTQ Pride events “indoctrinate” children — a claim Sarah Worthman, an LGBTQ researcher, said isn’t new.

“It’s really based on this idea that it’s a choice, that being exposed to queer culture and trans identities is suddenly going to transform someone into being 2SLGBTQIA+, which is not true at all,” she said. 

“We can look to history where they weren’t even allowed to talk about their sexual orientation and yet people still existed. We’ve always existed.”

A person wearing a blazer with a Pride flag pinned to it stands under a gazebo.
Sarah Worthman, an LGBTQ historian and researcher, said anti-LGBTQ hate is on the rise in Canada. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Worthman said the backlash to the event at St. Matthew’s School is indicative of a rising trend in hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric across the country. Some of that rhetoric includes the accusation that drag performances amounts to “grooming” — an increasingly common myth in far right circles.

Worthman said that myth isn’t based on reality — and is dangerous.

“These people like to claim they care about children but they really don’t,” Worthman said. “They just care about hating our community.”

Worthman is one of the organizers of a rally Friday in support of LGBTQ-inclusive education. She said the event is a counterprotest to an anti-LGBTQ inclusive education protest happening the same day.

Hilary Hennessey of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission said she’s been monitoring a rise in anti-LGBTQ hate but was still shocked to see the reaction to the Pride celebration at St. Matthew’s School.

Hennessey said the organization will be participating in the rally in support of inclusive education.

“I think that community support is really important. I think that I would encourage people to determine how they can support the 2SLGBTQ community at this time because they definitely need it.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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