"A mistake was made" an emotional chair of the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) admitted as funding for a play about a gay teen’s fight to take his boyfriend to prom was reinstated.
Matt Reid, who is the first openly gay chair of a school board in Canada, made the remarks Tuesday, moments after board administration announced they would give $15,000 to the Grand Theatre's High School Project.
"We must be clear to the community that a mistake was made in this case. While our admin had the best of intentions, the actions were unfortunately viewed by those in the public as rooted in homophobia, and for this I am sorry," said Reid.
The TVDSB and the London District Catholic School Board came under fire last week when it was revealed that for the first time in 20 years, neither board would donate to the high school project – a production staged by area secondary school students. Concerns over inappropriate language and the negative portrayal of authority figures in the script to this year's play, Prom Queen: The Musical, were cited as the reasons behind the administration's decision to pull the funding.
"I recognize the angst that this has caused for many members of the community and was in no way intended to be disrespectful," said TVDSB Director of Education Laura Elliott.
She went on to explain that in addition to reversing the funding decision, the board would develop teaching materials to aid students in dealing with the play's mature content.
"Our staff will develop pre and post play materials to be used with students in the safety of their classrooms so that they fully understand context and content of the performance. We hope that we may work with the Grand Theatre staff and other community groups and organizations to develop high-quality learning resources for this play," said Elliott.
In the coming months, the board will also come up with new guidelines around what grade levels the production is suitable for.
Prom Queen: The Musical is based on the true story of Marc Hall, an Oshawa teenager who successfully fought the Durham Catholic School Board to bring his boyfriend to prom in 2002.
Reid said that the original decision to yank the production's funding was a "blemish on our board." He went on to state that it does not, however, undo previous good done by the board for the LGBTQ2 community.
"I remember all too well, 14 years ago while I was a student trustee watching as trustees, many of whom are still around this table, stood up against the homophobic hate that was directed to us when we chose to pass a safe school policy that protected our gay and lesbian students," said Reid. "I remember the e-mails from religious leaders and the public telling us we'd be going to hell if we passed that policy and I remember how proud I was when love won over hate that day."
Parents will be notified of the play's strong language and mature content. Students must get parental consent to attend the performance, slated for this fall.
Pride London President Andrew Rosser praised the board for its change of heart.
"It's fantastic to see that the school board stepped up, admitted that they made a mistake in this decision and are reversing it," said Rosser. "What they did here today really shows their leadership and I personally would really love to see the Catholic school board step up and make a decision like this."
The London District Catholic School Board has indicated that it would use the $15,000 that was withheld from the play and instead use it to fund other student programs throughout the board.
Cody Neville was among the over two dozen people who gathered in the gallery for the Tuesday night board meeting. The 24-year-old wore a tiara and silver sash with the words "prom queen" scrolled across it. While Neville was happy to see the board restore funding to the play he also felt it was too little, too late.
"You made a decision and then you have bad media coverage that painted the board in a light that you didn't like and now you're back peddling to make it ok again," said Neville, an openly gay man and former student trustee. "Apologies go a long way but I think actions speak louder than words and you didn't fund the play in the first place."
Neville, who grew up in rural Ontario, stressed how helpful a play such as Prom Queen could be to a high school student struggling to come to terms with their sexuality.
"To go see that production, feel it, live it and see that there are other people out there like you, you can't put a price on that," said Neville.
The Grand Theatre previously announced it will offer two free student matinees to Prom Queen: The Musical. The announcement came after an online fundraiser to make up for the funding shortfall exceeded its $30,000 goal in less than 12 hours. To date, the online initiative has seen 675 people donate $58,065.
Grand Theatre officials have vowed all donated funds will be used exclusively for Prom Queen: The Musical.
The annual high school project at the Grand has a budget of $250,000. All roles in the production from actor to stage management are filled by students.