LGBTQ2S+ members, allies press need for representation in books at WRDSB meeting

Several members and allies of the community spoke at a Waterloo Region District School Board meeting Monday evening in support of literature for and by the LGBTQ2S+ community.

Decision to stop teacher delegation in compliance with board rules, director of education says

Several delegates spoke at a Waterloo Region District School Board meeting Monday evening to express their support for having books that represent the LGBTQ2S+ community on library shelves in Waterloo region's public schools. (Waterloo Region District School Board/YouTube)

For Cait Glasson, having books that represent the LGBTQ2S+ community on library shelves in Waterloo region's public schools "will save lives."

Glasson, a transgender woman, was among several community members who spoke at a Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) trustee meeting Monday evening in support of literature representative of the LGBTQ2S+ community.

Their comments were in response to a delegation at a board meeting last week about how the board is looking into how new books are introduced and old books are pulled from local schools

Teacher Carolyn Burjoski had her remarks on the board's library review process cut short over concerns she was violating the Ontario Human Rights Code protections on gender identity and expressions.

Burjoski had commented on the age appropriateness of some books in the current school library system and gave examples of books that touched on the topics of asexuality and transgender awareness. She was stopped in a five-to-four vote initiated by board chair Scott Piatkowski.

A few days later, the teacher said in a social media video that she was "assigned to home" and could not report to her teaching duties.

"My few comments expressed concerns about age-inappropriate sexual content. I did not and do not question the rights of transpersons to exist in any way," she said in the video.

"Cancel culture needs to stop," she went on to say.

Community speaks out

Glasson, who transitioned before she turned 30, said she knew she was a woman at the age of four.

For years, Glasson said she wasn't encouraged to speak about her identity as a child growing up in Toronto. When she was 13-years-old, she went to a library to learn more about what she was experiencing.

She said she met a librarian who explained to her that she was "transsexual" and recommended a book to read.

"That was transformative in my life … Learning that word from that librarian and reading the book he recommended to me saved my life," Glasson told board members.

"It makes an enormous difference and I want you to know that, and making these books available will save lives. Keeping these books on the shelf will save lives," Glasson said.

David Alton, also a member of the local LGBTQ2S+ community, expressed concern over hate targeting the community and asked the board to come up with a strategy to better address these incidents.

"Last meeting's delegation, the way it was handled and the online transphobic backlash paint an important picture of how queer identities are in the firing line of an organized system of hate and how the school board plays a critical role in the dismantling of that hate," they said.

Mitchell Avis expressed his support for the community and the need for equal resources for all.

"I dream of an inclusive, loving region where all peoples can live their full potential and be their authentic self. This begins with students as children in our community," he said.

"When I was growing up as a white cis-gendered male in a rural community, I had no problems finding books of any age that centered white, straight boys I could identify with. All children, no matter how they identify, deserve the same opportunities that I had to open a book and read about characters just like them," Avis added.

Another delegate shared a video featuring several members of the community recommending books representative of the LGBTQ2S+ community.

Before a delegation can be given, the board chair reads out a procedure that says statements contravening the Ontario Human Rights Code or Charter of Rights and Freedoms will not be tolerated. One delegate at the Monday meeting expressed concern with this procedure and said the board is using it to control what people say.

Board adhered to bylaws

During an opening statement at the meeting, the board's director of education jeewan chanicka said external legal counsel confirmed that the board reduced liability by putting a stop to the delegation last week.

"The board has taken the necessary steps to reduce harm to WRDSB students, staff and community and reduce its legal exposure. The board has been advised that by taking these steps, it is in adherence to board bylaws, board policies, the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Education Act and Ministry of Education Directions and as such, the board has complied with its obligations and responsibilities as required by law," chanicka said.

Piatkowski also shared a statement highlighting the harm that was reduced. Shortly after, trustee Mike Ramsay spoke out and asked Piatkowski to "apologize to the entire community" for his actions in the last board meeting.

Piatkowski told him he was out of order, and after some back and forth, Ramsay's mic appeared to have been muted by an administrator.

Trustee Laurie Tremble, who initially voted for the teacher's presentation to carry on, took to social media last week to apologize.

"Upon reflection, I realize I was wrong," Tremble said in a tweet.