By JOSH SHERMAN
The message at St. Denis Catholic School’s first ever Pride Month celebration was loud and clear. “Love and inclusivity — that’s what today is all about,” said Anthony Pauk, the school’s principal.
Around 2 p.m. on June 1, students, staff, and parents spilled out into the schoolyard to celebrate that message, as well as support members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and their allies.
The Catholic elementary school’s inaugural Pride Month event featured a dance party with a DJ and MC, a live piano-and-vocal performance from music teacher Marie McBride, and the unfurling of a giant 25-foot-long rainbow flag.
“We’re the first Catholic school that I know of to do this big of a celebration,” Pauk told Beach Metro Community News.
The celebration comes a little over a year after the Toronto Catholic District School Board decided to fly pride flags outside all its schools each June, beginning in 2021. (Although St. Denis raised a flag last year, COVID-19 dashed any hopes of a party.)
Before kicking off the afternoon’s festivities, which followed a morning assembly and lunchtime visit from an ice-cream truck serving rainbow-sprinkled treats, guest speakers took the mic to speak about inclusion.
St. Denis French teacher Wendell Isidor shared his experience of telling his parents that he was gay. “My mom sat there, she looked at me, and said, ‘Child, I knew since you were five,” he recalled.
“My mom loved me nonetheless — both my mom and my dad… and that was the true definition of support and the true definition of an ally,” Isidor added.
Rima Berns-McGown, former Beaches-East York MPP, told of her youngest child’s experience coming out as gay at 14 and as a trans woman in university.
“It was really, really tough for her, and I know that when I tell her about all this love, it’s going to heal her, and it’s going to make her heart so happy,” she said.
And Elisa Moolecherry — a member of the Equity Circle parent group’s 2SLGBTQ+ subcommittee, which organized the event — spoke about how 2SLGBTQ+ allies need to persevere.
“Doing the work means you have to be brave,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy; it’s going to be uncomfortable. It’s OK to be uncomfortable.”
The Pride Month celebration was the Equity Circle’s first in-person event, although since forming during the pandemic it has spearheaded multiple initiatives, including contributing diverse titles to the school library for Black History Month.
“We want to create a circle for parents so we can share and inspire the community to create events, resources, [and] education — for everybody,” group co-founder Andrea Henry told Beach Metro Community News.
“We’re not just doing race; we’re not just doing Pride — we’re doing everything,” she added, noting accessibility and wellness are also focuses and she hopes to inspire other schools to create their own parent-led equity cirlces.
The afternoon was emotional for Julie Garcia Sjogrim, who took it in with her five-year-old daughter, Ella, who’s attending senior kindergarten at St Denis.
“The fact that they’re teaching inclusivity and love, and that everyone can be who they are, is such a great message to share with the kids and brought a tear to my eye,” she said in an interview.
“Honestly, to see all the kids cheering and chanting and being so inclusive it was just an amazing experience and something that I’ll never forget.”
Asked what she learned during the day, Ella (after a prompt from her mom) brought up the Pride flag. “The flag means you can be whoever you want, and you can be whoever you are.”
Ringing in Pride Month at St. Denis was a “full-circle moment” to Isidor, who grew up in the Catholic school system and now teaches in it.
“As I’m talking to the kids, I literally see myself back when I was in the 5th grade, sitting there, thinking at that time this could never ever happen.”
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