Where do Canadian Jewish schools stand on Pride? Phoebe Maltz Bovy on a missing piece of current coverage

From the Instagram account of Bialik Hebrew Day School in Toronto.

As the weather gets warmer and the month gets Pride-er, the culture wars turn, if they hadn’t already, to the place of LGBTQ rights and education in schools. Media coverage often hones in on the handful of right-wing parents most worked up about this, or on the occasional school library book that takes graphic novel a bit too literally.

In the Toronto area, this much seems clear: the TDSB, Toronto’s public school system, is all-in on inclusiveness. Pride flags hang at schools year-round, whether or not the Junior Kindergartners are aware of it, or just think, huh, rainbows. Catholic schools in the GTA are less consistent, with the Toronto ones raising Pride flags in June, but the York ones adamant against doing so. In London, Ont., Catholic and public schools are supporting Pride, but some Christian and Muslim parents are not on board.

Meanwhile, reports the CBC, “A Niagara Catholic District School Board (NCDSB) trustee is facing criticism after a video surfaced appearing to show her compare the Pride flag to the Nazi flag.” Wait what?

Where, then, do Jewish schools—and Canadian Jews generally, many of whom (or so I’ve heard) send their kids to public school—fall on these issues? The CJN investigated in 2015, which is both recent and a million years ago where these topics are concerned. Presumably Canada’s Jews can parse the difference between rainbows and swastikas. But beyond the obvious, where are things at?

I will digress, Canadian-style, with an apology. I live in Toronto, and have some Canadian family, but I am not Canadian. I am Jewish (not to startle anyone here), but the Jewish schools whose cultural significance I can make sense of are in New York, where I’m from, and not in Toronto, where I live. I am a Jewish parent, but I have never attended nor sent children to a Jewish day school.

When I went to a Reform Hebrew school in the 1990s on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, one of the rabbis was an out lesbian, and I do not remember this seeming concerning or indeed noteworthy to anyone at the time. Literally why wouldn’t a Reform rabbi a few blocks from Zabar’s be a lesbian?

But if the debates of 30 years ago were about inclusion of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, today, trans issues have become more prominent. (Not that gay rights in all denominations are by any means a done deal.) The abstract idea of gender transition is potent and compelling, which means it’s frequently discussed in ways that have little to do with actual transgender people. It is the polarizing topic around which the culture wars hover, the participants often forgetting that real people are involved.

If I may summarize without opining, there are a few different factions, in Canada and beyond, with strong views. There are some religious (and non-religious) conservatives who take a generally anti-LGBTQ stance, though they may focus more on trans issues these days because it is the topic. There are some centrists and progressives—many of them gay or lesbian themselves—who view facets of trans activism as in conflict with gay rights or feminism. And there are some progressives who welcome every new step, inclusion-wise, and do not see different identity-based activisms as mutually exclusive.

Also key: many in these three groups think that everyone in the other two is an irredeemable bigot who is harming children. High stakes, in other words.

As for Canadian Jewry, my impression has been that it’s more traditionalist than its American equivalent. Mainstream organizations are participating in Pride, as are day schools and community centres, if not without pushback. As for any bigger-picture sense of where Canadian Jews stand on the general or specific aspects of these topics, I have no idea. My hunch is that however many Canadian Jews there are, there are three times as many opinions.

The Jewish angle to the Pride symbolism-and-more conversation is an under-reported area in mainstream Canadian news coverage, and I am alas but a mere opinion writer and podcaster. We will be discussing this topic on an upcoming Bonjour Chai podcast, so now is the moment to email me with all that I’m missing.

The CJN’s senior editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @bovymaltz