05/23/2014 10:36 EDT | Updated 07/23/2014 01:59 EDT

New Brunswick premier defends government's stance on gay rights amid flag flap

FREDERICTON - A New Brunswick policy that prevented a Fredericton high school from flying a rainbow flag for pride week is not a reflection of the provincial government's stance on gay rights, Premier David Alward said Friday.

Leo Hayes High School wanted to hoist the multi-coloured flag this week, but Alward said he indicated that doing so would breach provincial protocol on what can be flown on government flagpoles.

He said the decision was made after consulting with the protocol office, which is responsible for the province's flag policy, and has nothing to do with the nature of the rainbow flag or pride week.

"It was not reflective in any way of what I stand for, what our government stands for and the work that is going on every day," he said in an interview.

Alward said the policy limits flags to the Acadian, provincial and Canadian flags, the Union Jack and the flags of visiting dignitaries for purposes of consistency.

He would not disclose who made the request to fly the flag at Leo Hayes citing privacy concerns, but an online petition asking the government to reconsider said the school's gay-straight alliance received an email from Alward saying it could not raise the flag.

The petition said the school has raised the rainbow flag for the past two years.

"Flying the pride flag shows students and the public that the school is a safe and accepting place for everyone," read the petition, which had more than 200 signatures Friday afternoon.

Former Liberal cabinet minister Kelly Lamrock, who plans to run for the NDP in the next provincial election, questioned the purpose of the flag policy on Twitter.

"The question isn't did LHHS (Leo Hayes High School) follow the policy. It's why would we keep a policy that PREVENTS kids from fighting LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer) bullying?" he tweeted.

Brad Sturgeon, principal of Leo Hayes, declined comment.

Alward said policies can be changed, but did not indicate if the flag protocol is something his government plans to revisit.

Meanwhile, he said the school is encouraged to hoist the rainbow flag inside and celebrate pride week, adding that his government continues to make strides in promoting diversity in the province.

"I'm very proud of the work that's gone on," he said. "I believe we have the most progressive, inclusive education policies in the country where we celebrate the diversity of our young people, whether that be differences in gender, those with disabilities or different linguistic communities."

— By Melanie Patten in Halifax

Follow @melaniepatten on Twitter