Manitoba

Canadian Museum for Human Rights CEO won't seek reappointment after staff allegations of racism, homophobia

John Young, the CEO of the Winnipeg museum, says he will not be seeking reappointment when his term ends this August.

Allegations have surfaced from former employees at national museum in recent weeks

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights has hired a lawyer to investigate complaints of racism and other forms of discrimination including homophobia at the museum in Winnipeg. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg says he will not be seeking reappointment when his term ends this August.

John Young made the announcement to staff at the museum in an internal email obtained by CBC News Thursday afternoon.

It comes after numerous allegations about racism and homophobia at the museum surfaced online in recent weeks from former employees.

On Thursday, CBC News reported current and former employees of the museum said management would sometimes ask staff not to show any gay content on tours at the request of certain guests, including religious school groups.

"The idea that the museum has been intentionally hiding LGBTQ2* content from visitors is particularly painful," Young said in his email to staff Thursday.

"While this is not the museum's policy, clearly there have been instances that are at odds with our 'come and see approach.' That is a failure on our part, and as the head of the museum, accountability for these shortcomings at the museum lie on my shoulders, and I acknowledge the consequences that follow from that."

Canadian Museum for Human Rights CEO John Young said he will not seek reappointment when his term ends in August. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The employees who spoke to CBC said the practice was common for at least two years, and in one case a staff member from the LGBT community was asked to physically block a same-sex marriage display from a passing group.

The museum confirmed that from January 2015 until the middle of 2017, schools and classes could make a request for content to be excluded. That included stories about diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Middle management problems: former employee

Former CMHR program assistant Liam Green said he thinks Young's decision not to seek another contract is a good first step.

Green, who is gay, said he struggled working at the museum knowing LGBT content was being hidden from some visitors.

 "It was hard because it was my first kind of professional job as a young person who was really excited about the promise of … the institution," he said Thursday night in a phone interview from Victoria.

When he heard about the museum's practice of hiding the content, he said it felt like "just another kind of micro aggression" against "a young queer person who was trying to get into an institution and succeed."

"But the real problem here lies with a lot of middle management and some senior management as well, and I think that the CMHR really needs to take a look at those people who are still employed by the museum."

WATCH | CMHR employees say they were told to censor gay content for certain guests:

Young said he's discussed his decision with Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and will stay on until the end of his term to help support the transition ahead.

Late Thursday, former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray announced his resignation from the board of Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

"I've resigned from the Board of Friends of #CMHR over this betrayal of its mandate & all of us who worked hard to see it built & whose stories of overcoming hate are told within its walls," Murray wrote on Twitter.

"Shocked there is no public apology or outreach to communities."

Young has been at the museum since August 2015. In February, he said in an interview he wanted to continue his role as CEO.

An appointment opportunity for the position was posted online earlier this year, which is standard for when an appointment term is almost up. The posting closed on Feb. 17. 

The federal government decides who to appoint as CEO of the Crown corporation.

About the Author

​Austin Grabish landed his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. This past summer, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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