Brandon LGBTQ community members fear effects of proposed school books ban

Manitoba CUPE members had a rally against banning books in Brandon School Division Wednesday. The march was in response to a delegation that called for the removal of LGBTQ, sexual education and other books at a board of trustees meeting on May 18.

Rally against proposed book ban about human rights, says CUPE Manitoba president

A woman carries a sign says  "open books, open minds."
CUPE workers, Brandon Pride, Pflag, the Knox United Church Affirm Committee and others walk in support of keeping LGBTQ, sexual education and other books in libraries on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Cries of, "banning books is not OK," could be heard on Brandon's 18th Street Wednesday during a rally in support of the LGBTQ community.

The march was in reaction to a delegation before the Brandon School Division board of trustees on May 8, calling for the removal of LGBTQ, sexual education resources and other books in school libraries.

There is fear among LGBTQ community members now as they wait to see what the school board will decide at its next meeting on May 23, said Marshall Morrisseau from the Sexuality Education Resource Centre in Brandon. 

"We're here to show that it's going to be a bad thing and we're just showing support for the community," said Morrisseau, who was one of about 80 people at the rally organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees. "We want to stand in solidarity with folks in the community that are being harmed by this [proposed] ban."

Manitoba CUPE is holding its annual convention at the Keystone Centre and the labour movement wanted to rally against banning books, said Kirk Carr, president of the Brandon and District Labour Council.

A group of around 80 people march carrying Pride and CUPE flags in support of the LGBTQ community.
The rally was held reaction to a delegation to the Brandon School Board on May 8 calling for the banning of LGBTQ, sexual education resources and other books. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

He says book bans are a labour and community issue. Brandon's CUPE Local 737 includes non-teacher members from the Brandon School Division.

Part of the overall response in the community has been one of "unity and love," Carr said, which he described as two major pillars of the labour movement.

"I'm feeling really, really good after hearing the responses from the community. I know it's really easy to get lost in a sense of despair and follow that hate, but coming out of that has been all of the positive comments and all of the support," Carr said. "It's about making sure as a community we're strong and as a community, we're together and united."

A group of around 80 people march carrying Pride and CUPE flags in support of the LGBTQ community.
Jim Cobb walks along Brandon's 18th Street holding a progressive flag. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Gina McKay is the president of CUPE Manitoba and national equity vice-president for the 2SLGBTQI workers. She says the proposed book ban gained attention at the recent Canadian Labour Congress annual convention. 

They connected with Brandon Pride, SERC Brandon, Manitoba Harm Reduction and other community organizers to see what CUPE could do to help. She says the result was a collaborative rally to support community activists.

"We represent workers also in the school division sector and schools and no matter what rights, human rights are union issues," McKay said. "These are human rights, and they're not to be retracted. We need to build strong, inclusive schools, not look at the ways that we can dismantle them."

She says this is an important conversation to be a part of because what happens in Brandon at the next school board meeting will be precedent-setting. 

A person with a rainbow drawn on their cheek talks into a megaphone.
Evan Proulx chants, 'Banning books is not OK.' (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

LGBTQ 'identities, are real, they're valid and they exist'

McKay has worked with SERC in the past as an educator. She says a potential book ban could have a huge impact because it affects youth at a critical time in their lives.

"We're talking about basic human sexuality, puberty, things that young people need to worry about and learn about because where else are they going to get it on their fingertips on social media," McKay said. "It's a really important issue to me. I've got young people in my life, but not only that it's a bigger picture, it has the ability to impact curriculum, it has the ability for communities to stand against human rights."

A woman carries a trans flag during a rally.
Leila Praznik holds a transgender flag. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Morrisseau says these books should be available to youth because research shows they have a positive impact on the mental well-being and health of transgender youth. Morrisseau says gender-affirming education and care need to be available in schools because it reduces negative outcomes for LGBTQ people.

A group of around 80 people march carrying Pride and CUPE flags in support of the LGBTQ community.
SERC Brandon 2STLGTBQ+ program facilitator Marshall Morriseau says gender-affirming education and care needs to be available in schools because it reduces negative outcomes for LGBTQ people. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

"I hope folks start thinking critically, and I hope that they challenge their own beliefs and biases that they may have.... We have to dismantle these beliefs and these values as they are harming and degrading to 2STLGBTQ+ identities," Morrisseau said. "These identities are real, they're valid and they exist."


Chelsea Kemp

Brandon Reporter

Chelsea Kemp is a multimedia journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is based in CBC's bureau in Brandon, covering stories focused on rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback with