Cheers as Brandon School Division rejects call to remove library books on sexuality, gender identity
Hundreds pack high school gymnasium in response to May 8 delegation
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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.
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.