Cheers as Brandon School Division rejects call to remove library books on sexuality, gender identity

Loud cheers erupted inside a packed high school gymnasium after the Brandon School Division rejected a call to remove certain books dealing with sexuality and gender identity from libraries.

Hundreds pack high school gymnasium in response to May 8 delegation

Two women are hugging. A crowd of people can be seen in the background.
An audience member embraces Penni Jones, left, who spoke against banning books at a Brandon School Division board of trustees meeting at Vincent Massey High School on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains descriptions of bullying and mentions suicide.

Loud cheers erupted inside a packed high school gymnasium after the Brandon School Division rejected a call to remove books dealing with sexuality and gender identity from libraries.

Hundreds of people in Manitoba's second-largest city showed up for the marathon school division meeting, which ran into the early morning hours.

The trustees ultimately voted 6-1 to reject a proposal to create a committee of trustees and parents to review books available in division schools.

The school division was inundated with calls, letters and emails after a delegation at its May 8 meeting, led by former school trustee and grandmother Lorraine Hackenschmidt, called on the division to set up a committee to review the content of books available in school libraries, and remove titles deemed inappropriate, including "any books that caused our kids to question whether they are in the wrong body."

Brandon vote rejects call to remove library books on sexuality, gender identity

9 days ago
Duration 3:08
They met and listened, until the early hours of the morning. In the end, trustees in Brandon have rejected a call to ban books from school libraries. Hundreds were at the marathon meeting of the Brandon School Division's board of trustees. 30 delegations turned out to speak on the proposal to remove certain books dealing with sexuality and gender identity.

Before the vote, board chair Linda Ross said there were many "errors and untruths" in Hackenschmidt's presentation.

Ross said that by denying the possibility that people could feel like they are born in the wrong body, "you are denying the reality of others. Because it is not your experience does not mean that it is not the reality of others."

Meeting moved

Tuesday's board of trustees meeting was held in Vincent Massey High School in the southwestern Manitoba city, where it had been relocated to accommodate the number of people expected to attend.

More than 30 people — but not Hackenschmidt herself — registered to speak at the meeting before school trustees voted on the proposal brought forward on May 8.

A large number of people in the audience held up signs supporting LGBTQ people, while others held signs declaring their one-word response to the proposal: "Don't."

A woman is holding a sign saying the word "Don't" and a flag pole with multiple flags on a long rope.
Whitney Hodgins attended the meeting to show her opposition to the proposal to a call to review and remove books dealing with issues of sexuality and gender identity. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

First to speak was Jason Foster, a student at Vincent Massey High School who identified himself as transgender.

Foster started by thanking everyone in attendance, "no matter your opinion, no matter your stance."

He went on to describe his experiences as a transgender youth, saying he has been told to kill himself, and telling the trustees that being trans is not a choice.

"If it were, then people would not choose it," he said. "I have been told that the only way I would make my parents proud is if they found me hanging in my living room because I am transgender."

A young man with curly hair and wearing necklaces is standing behind a microphone. A crowd of people can be seen in the background.
Jason Foster, who identifies as a transgender male, told the trustees removing the books would harm transgender youth. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Removing the books would harm transgender youth, Foster said.

"If that content is banned and suppressed they will think something is wrong," he said. "Children will hate themselves ... Children are going to die because they believe their existence is wrong."

This photo shows a school gymnasium filled with people.
Hundreds of people attended the meeting in the gymnasium at Vincent Massey High School in Brandon, Man. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Trustees also heard from Penni Jones, who said her son is trans.

"I have always told my children that school is their safe place aside from our home," she said.

"If you, the trustees of the Brandon School Division, decide to form a committee to look at banning books of the LBGTQ nature, school will no longer be a safe place for my son."

The first of two delegates to speak in support of Hackenschmidt's call for a committee to review the books was John Roozendaal. He said they are all there because they are invested in the lives of students in the Brandon School Division.

"With that common ground, my most sincere hope is that we would all have the tolerance to allow each other to ask questions about the education they're receiving," he told the trustees.

"Books may be found to be inappropriate. Let them be examined by adults with the best interests of children and the light of day for all to see."

A woman is sitting behind a laptop. There are people standing behind her.
Several speakers at the meeting criticized trustee Breeanna Sieklicki for comments she made at the division's meeting on May 8, when she said it took 'courage' for delegates to come forward calling for a committee to review and remove books in school libraries. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

The only trustee to vote in favour of proposal was Breeanna Sieklicki, who was criticized by a number of speakers for comments she made at the May 8 meeting, when she told Hackenschmidt it took "courage" to come before the board and raise her concerns.

Loni Powell, the last speaker of the evening, told the board Sieklicki should be removed from her position, which was met with a loud cheer.

Before the vote, Sieklicki said she supported the call to review all books, not only those dealing with LGBTQ issues.

"We need to look at these books because why are we trying to sexualize kids in our schools?" she said.

She stated that she did not think the committee should have the power to remove the books, but she wanted to "get the conversation started."

Books in question

Some titles singled out by the May 8 delegation included Being Jazz by Jazz Jennings, an American transgender advocate, and It's Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris, an illustrated book for children 10 and older dealing with puberty and sex.

As of noon last Friday, the division had received at least 289 emails and letters in response to the proposal. Of those, six supported the call to review the books.

Loud cheers and applause frequently punctuated the meeting, from audience members both in support and opposed to the proposal.

A man in a blue shirt is speaking to someone out of frame. A shoulder can be seen in the lower left corner, with a security guard badge on it.
Security guards ejected one audience member who supported the proposal to remove books from school libraries after a verbal altercation with other audience members. The man had ripped up a sign held by opponents of the call to remove books, with the word 'Don't' printed on it, and held up the half which read 'Do.' (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Several people in the audience cheered when People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier, who said he supports the call to remove the books, entered the gym. They were met with jeers and boos from other audience members. 

There was little reaction when Bernier quietly left the meeting shortly before 9 p.m.

Security guards ejected one man from the meeting after a verbal argument with other audience members. The man had cut one of the signs with the word "Don't" printed on it, and held up the half which read "Do."

If you or someone you know is struggling, here's where to get help:

  • Talk Suicide Canada: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text between 4 p.m. and midnight ET).
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat counselling on the website.
  • Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.
  • Trans Lifeline: 877-330-6366 (phone, 5 p.m.-1 a.m. ET) A peer support line run by and for trans people, focused on providing community, support, and resources.

This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you're worried about.


Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC Manitoba living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to