UPDATE: At its meeting Tuesday night, the TVDSB agreed to reinstate its $15,000 funding for Prom Queen. The Board Chair and other members spoke passionately about how the original decision didn’t reflect where they are as an organization. From the Catholic Board: crickets.
People around the world gathered for Women’s Marches on the weekend in protest, and to mark, Donald Trump’s first anniversary as President. They’re fighting social conservatism and a government that values a watered-down version of The Handmaid’s Tale. Hundreds turned out in my city’s downtown.
Last week, my city welcomed Canada’s first black chair of a Police Services Board. City Councilor Mo Salih is a welcome voice for rights of the oppressed. He’s an ardent feminist and a conduit for common sense.
So it’s disappointing that our school boards, The Thames Valley District Public and London District Catholic, have withdrawn support for an annual event. The Grand Theatre’s choice of high school musical for 2018 blew up like the restaurant patron in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
The Grand’s Artistic Director chose Prom Queen, a play based on the 2002 true story of Oshawa high school student Mark Hall. He wanted to take his boyfriend as his date to his prom but his Catholic high school forbade it. So, he took the school board to court and won. The case made international news.
Usually, both school boards in London contribute $15,000 to the annual high school musical. It’s still a financially losing proposition for the Grand but the shows are always sold out and up to the caliber of anything they produce. Rising talents get a chance to be on the big stage. Younger students get to see a play for cheap or free. It’s usually a win-win. But both boards are upset about the content of this show and so they pulled their funding.
If it was as simple as removing the six-letter F-word from the script, perhaps the Grand would comply. But it’s bigger than that. The Boards both say they don’t like the portrayal of teachers and school board members in the play. In it, a teacher lies on the stand and a priest blackmails a student. They claim that showing educators in a negative light will harm the relationships between students and teachers. And, they say, priests don’t act like that (anymore). They’re still allowing students to take part in the production but they’re worried about younger ones who might not put Hall’s struggle into context.
The Board Chairs have the lamest arguments. They want all portrayals of teachers to show them as heroes. In this instance, they weren’t all heroes. Some were downright awful. The story also has historical importance. Mark Hall set a precedent and changed lives for the better. I wonder if they would refuse to support a play about the suffragette movement because some men back then were sexist and didn’t want women to vote? Facing the truth of how some of their colleagues behaved not all that long ago makes them uncomfortable. Well, London is uncomfortable with suppressing the truth. Two Go-Fund-Me accounts were immediately set up to cover the shortfall and raised more than $50,000 in less than 24-hours. My city won’t stand for this kind of censorship.
One of the Board Chairs claims their decision is similar to a company that’s having a bad year and can’t support the arts. That flawed argument forgets the fact that school boards are funded by taxes, not the purchase of widgets. And it’s further evidence that we haven’t come as far as we think we have in levels of tolerance and acceptance. Shame on them for putting their own discomfort ahead of the truth. If parents don’t want their children to see Prom Queen, they can refuse to let them go. I’m embarrassed for our school board leaders. They’re acting more like children than the children they profess to want to protect.