Community groups condemn trustee candidates for 'transphobic rhetoric'

A coalition of community groups is condemning some Ottawa school board trustee candidates accused of spreading anti-trans rhetoric.

Letter this week urged voters to closely research candidates in their school board zones

Trustee candidates for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and Ottawa Catholic School Board will also be on the ballot on Monday, Oct. 24. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

A coalition of community groups is condemning some Ottawa school board trustee candidates accused of spreading anti-trans rhetoric.

The coalition, including Rainbow Ottawa Student Experience, the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD), and Horizon Ottawa, a registered third party in the municipal election, issued a letter this week urging voters to closely research trustee candidates in their zones.

They identified eight candidates in both the public and Catholic English-language boards who they believe want to change policies around gender identity, which was based on social media posts, endorsements and platforms.

The idea of visibility is a double-edged sword.- Jaime Sadgrove, Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity

"[We] condemn in the strongest terms possible the transphobic rhetoric being used by Ottawa school board trustee candidates," the letter reads.

"If elected, [they] have declared their support for policies that would seriously impede the ability of trans students to learn effectively within Ottawa's schools."

A CBC News review found more than 20 candidates across Ontario who've expressed anti-trans views or aligned with lobby groups expressing those views.

CCGSD spokesperson Jaime Sadgrove said trustee candidates generally get much less attention during an election, which makes them "easy to slip under the radar and then make really harmful drastic changes."

Municipal election campaigns see rise in anti-trans rhetoric, advocate says

2 months ago
Duration 1:25
Jaime Sadgrove, spokesperson for the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, says there’s been a “concerted push” by candidates using transphobic rhetoric in elections for school board trustees.

Candidates decry 'ideology' in classrooms

Shannon Boschy, a public board candidate in Rideau-Vanier/Rideau-Rockcliffe (Zone 6) named in the Horizon Ottawa statement, said in an email Friday the groups involved are making "false allegations of hate."

"The trans activists like to bully other people into [thinking] their rights are more important than anyone else's in a zero-sum game. And it's destructive and it's causing an incredible amount of conflict," Boschy said in a previous interview with CBC about his candidacy.

Boschy also referred to a protest he participated in last year that was met with a counter-protest where Horizon Ottawa and other advocacy groups helped mobilize.

Shannon Boschy, a trustee candidate in Ottawa's English public school board, has criticized how issues of gender identity are taught in public schools, which is a central part of his campaign. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Boschy singled out Lyra Evans as his opponent when he announced his candidacy. She was believed to be the only openly trans school board trustee in the country at the time. 

Boschy said he wants to repeal a policy that gives students final say about whether parents are informed if they identify as a different gender at school. His opposition is based, in part, on how his own child transitioned genders.

Boschy said the school didn't inform him and that contributed to a rift with his child.

"I lost my relationship with my child," he said.

Chanel Pfahl, another public board candidate named in the statement, is running in Orléans East-Cumberland/Orléans South-Navan (Zone 8). She said she's running because she's concerned schools are "infusing political ideologies into everyday lessons."

"Horizon Ottawa throws labels at anyone that questions the radical authoritarian ideology they support. They have nothing of substance to say, just name-calling. They don't understand what I stand for or why — which is unfortunate. I only want what's best for the kids," Pfahl said in an email to CBC.

Pfahl faced criticism recently when she published details on social media of online support group meetings for visible minority and LGBTQ students at public schools. 

"I'm actually trying to protect kids from a toxic ideology," Pfahl said in a tweet. "Can't say the same for whoever is trying to have secret meet-ups with lesbian kindergarteners."

'Double-edged sword'

Evans, who was elected in 2018, is again running for trustee. She said the student confidentiality policy allows children who don't feel safe coming out at home the opportunity to come out safely at school.

Evans also said young it helps trans students find a safe space to come out and live as themselves, which then helps reduce increased rates of suicidal ideation, depression and anxiety. It also allows school staff to better offer support if those students are struggling, she said.

Lyra Evans, who is openly trans, is running again to be a school board trustee. She said her record also includes pushing for action on climate change and COVID-19 prevention measures. (Lyra Evans/Facebook)

Evans has spoken about polarization around school board trustee issues during the pandemic and a "backlash" to change.

"I think it's disappointing that there are people who feel they can run an entire platform on anti-LGBTQ issues," Evans said.

Sadgrove said there's been a trend of backsliding involving trans rights in the United Kingdom and United States that may also come to Canada.

"The idea of visibility is a double-edged sword," Sadgrove said. "The more trans people are in the spotlight, the more that people who hold transphobic views are going to push back against that."


Matthew Kupfer

CBC Reporter

Matthew Kupfer has been a reporter and producer at CBC News since 2012. He can be reached at and on Twitter @matthewkupfer

with files from Jonathan Montpetit and Lori Ward