Gagne doubles down

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School board trustee shows partisanship in public role

In the wake of the Regina Public School Board vote against Trustee Young’s Pride motion, Chairperson Katherine Gagne continues to be a central figure at the centre of this controversy.

Two days after the motion was defeated, Kent Peterson took to Twitter, sharing a speech (more suitably, sermon) published on YouTube that Gagne delivered to the congregation of Harvest City Church in August of this year. The post, entitled, “Speak Up Speak Out” in as an exasperating forty minutes in length with Gagne urging her fellow Christians to play more active roles in their communities.

Gagne preaches, “The one thing that rings like an alarm in my mind is the disconnection, too often, between the Church and [social programs and institutions]. Schools, hospitals, care homes, food banks . . . All of these services used to be provided by the Church. Somewhere, somehow, along the way, our place in society has changed. [Christians] are rarely seen anymore as the answer or the solution. [Christians] have been marginalized and, really, we have allowed ourselves to be marginalized.”

And that’s only two minutes in, folks.

Toward the video’s end, Gagne shares a touching anecdote of her daughter who recently accepted a position as a Floor Fellow (Residence Advisor) at McGill University. Gagne speaks of how it was essential for her daughter to strategically speak the language of “liberal secular theology” in order to be granted her position. “Isabel went to McGill three years ago with the absolute intent to make a difference and to bring Christ to that campus. So now she’s a Floor Fellow, that’s what they call it. But you and I both know that God’s positioned her as a pastor to 26 young people.”

These public comments beg the question of Gagne’s fitness to chair a school board without religious affiliation. That’s not to say that one can’t practice religion in their personal life without it influencing areas of their professional life; however, Gagne’s comments delivered to the Harvest City congregation are a clear indication of a not-so covert Christian agenda.

Eric Bell, an outspoken member of the community started a petition to have Gagne removed as chair. Bell also sees Gagne’s comments as presenting a conflict of interest. “I think it puts her denial of the Pride motion, in my opinion, into more context,” he says.

“I think you can really see, in watching her preaching and her comments since the [vote], where this is coming from. I think [Gagne] is viewing education through a fundamentalist religious lens, which is not at all appropriate. This is a public school system. There are people from all sorts of different religious backgrounds, Christianity aside, that go to school in the public school system.”

“There’s no problem with being a Christian and being the chair of the public school board, but you have to be able to separate that from your work and ensure that you’re working toward a safe and healthy, diverse school system for all. It really calls into question her ability to do that, I think.”

Bell’s petition has received more than 4,800 signatures as of Sunday, easily surpassing the 2,935 votes that elected Gagne in 2016. The petition has garnered more support than he anticipated and Bell has yet to receive any oppositional comments.

“If anything, I’ve had way more support than I thought I would. I’ve had a lot of teachers message me to tell me that they think the petition’s great and that Katherine Gagne, in her position as board chair, has done a lot of what teachers see as reputational damage to the school division. Her actions have painted Regina Public Schools with a homophobic brush and it makes [teachers] look bad.”

“If you google Regina Public Schools now, what is the first thing that’s going to come up? It makes the school division look bad, it makes the province look bad. I’ve seen comments on social media from people across Canada – education professors saying ‘it’s a dark day in Regina,’ so it’s on the radar for a lot of people.”

When asked about steps to take place after the petition, Bell shared that he plans to present the signatures to the board.

“I think a lot of what happens next is up to [the board] and if they decide to act in any sort of meaningful way. If they don’t, then it would be time to think about what to do next.”

Gagne and the board have not commented on the petition.

Following the vote, Gagne took to Facebook to defend her choice to vote against the motion. Her post also attests to a lack of understanding of basic grammatical rules, but it’s possible that this latter attribute was unintended.

In her post, Gagne attempts to explain that, “We can’t have one school thinking a drag queen story time to kindergarten students is acceptable or a teacher telling a grade 3 student that they don’t need to choose their gender yet is acceptable.”

Perhaps the Carillon will run a separate story unpacking everything that’s wrong with the previous statement (there’s a lot), but what we can discern is that – Gagne’s understanding of queer culture? – not great.

Bringing light to what became a rather interesting scandal, Kent Peterson shared photos to his Twitter (the same day as the aforementioned tweet) of an email that reads the following:

“Please send (from your personal email) an email to each of the Regina Public School Board trustees asking them to vote NO. Please craft your email with the following in mind.

-Do not say you have any affiliation with Regina Christian School or Harvest City Academy.

-Do not even say you are a Christian.

-Talk about diversity and respect for all, not elevating one group of people above another.

-It’s good to talk about cultural differences but not faith.

We can address this from a common sense perspective and be effective.”

“For most of the board members, the minute they see a letter is from [a] Christian, it will be discounted. Praise God, we have three strong Christian women on the board but the others will need a lot of convincing to vote against this.”

CBC investigated and reported that the email was sent to Regina Victory Church’s distribution list. Pastor Terry Murphy claims that he blindly passed the email on to the church’s members and was unaware of its contents.

Surprisingly, it turns out Murphy uses homophobic and transphobic lanugage and is quoted by CBC as having stated “We read about stuff all across North America about transvestites reading in public libraries . . . These things are very disturbing to us and they are very concerning to us.”

A humbling reminder for queer folks that there are still populations who would rather they didn’t exist – in case anyone was feeling too comfortable.

In the after-gloom of the Pride motion’s defeat, many schools chose to hold impromptu Pride celebrations with the goal of instilling a sense of security and love in those students who have been overlooked by their school division. Staff from Dr. Hanna School dressed in their finest rainbow colours when posing for this year’s school photo.

The clear, overarching message is that Regina Public School Board’s failure to acknowledge the importance of Pride is not representative of the people it employs – compassionate, welcoming and understanding individuals who are there to support their students above all else.

Gagne was unavailable for comment.

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