Thursday May 04, 2017

Director 'disheartened' after Ontario schools pull plug on play about gender identity

In Boys, Girls and Other Mythical Creatures, Simon transforms into Simone.

In Boys, Girls and Other Mythical Creatures, Simon transforms into Simone. (Carousel Players)

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The day after Carousel Players put off its first school performance of Boys, Girls, And Other Mythological Creatures, cancellations from other schools started pouring in.

"I was disheartened and surprised. Certainly it was unexpected and we had no answers from the cancellation emails that we received other than school activities were conflicting now with performances that had, some, been booked a year in advance," artistic director Jessica Carmichael told As It Happens co-host Carol Off.

So far, six schools in Ontario have pulled the a play about eight-year-old Simon, who dreams of becoming a princess and feels boxed in by gender stereotypes. Five of those cancellations were from the Niagara Catholic School Board (NCSB).

"Within 48 hours to have five schools suddenly cancel and all send us the same message, I felt that was unsatisfactory and I felt like there may be another reason they were canceling," Carmichael said. 

School denies transphobia 

In a statement on Carousel Players' website, Carmichael named that other reason as "transphobia, homophobia and misogyny" — an allegation the school board denies.

"We take exception to this portrayal based on the programs, services and supports we provide for all students," the NCSB said in an emailed statement.

"We believe that we share a strong belief that schools should be havens for all students; places where they feel safe to present themselves as unique individuals as we believe are created by God, and are part of the entire community."

'It's a play really about asking our friends and family to accept us as we explore who we are.' - Jessica Carmichael. Carousel Players

Carmichael told As It Happens that she was referring not just to the school board, but to the dozens of parents and community members commenting on the theatre company's Facebook page, saying the play aims to brainwash children.

"They're all over Facebook and there's nothing to say about that except transphobia and homophobia," Carmichael said.

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Artistic director Jessica Carmichael shares some of the feedback the play has received on social media. (Carousel Players)

The play, which targets children ages six through 10, was created in conjunction with representatives from several Ontario school boards to be in line with the province's new sex-ed curriculum — which itself has sparked several parent protests.

It centres around child named Simon and his friend Abby, who put on their own play in which Simon transforms into Princess Simone.

This irks Simon's brother, who joins the play as an evil king who banishes all things girl-related from the kingdom, forcing Simone to fight for her right to be her true self.

"And at the end of the play, the two brothers sort talk about their conflict and the older brother says, 'Are you my sister now?' and Simon/Simone says, 'Maybe, maybe not. I don't know," Carmichael said. "It's a play really about asking our friends and family to accept us as we explore who we are."

'Not age-appropriate'

The play is "not age-appropriate" for the kids, the NCSB said, adding that it was "not originally presented as a play about gender identity."

Carmichael insists Carousel Players included information in its promotional materials about the play's themes and curriculum connections, which include "imagination, friendship, self-expression, gender, bullying, social studies."

boysgirlsplay

Simon and Abby explore gender identity — to the chagrin of some parents and school officials — in Boys, Girls and Other Mythical Creatures. (Carousel Players)

Jackie Hansen, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International Canada, said there is an "astounding" rate of harassment of transgender children in Canadian schools.

"What has happened in those schools is a shame," she told Reuters "As a society as a whole we need to be doing more to protect trans folks, and that certainly includes schools." 

With files from Reuters