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Community bands together & shuts down LGBTQ+ book-banning effort

A woman speaks against the book banning proposal Photo: CBC video screenshot

A school district in the Canadian province of Manitoba voted Tuesday to reject a committee for banning books with LGBTQ+ content. After the board voted against the proposal, hundreds of meeting attendees applauded their decision.

The Brandon School Division, named for and located in Manitoba’s second-largest city, held its board of trustees meeting in the gymnasium of Vincent Massey High School on May 22. Hundreds of people attended — many holding rainbow-colored signs supporting the LGBTQ+ community and others holding signs against the committee that simply said. “Don’t.” Of the 30 people who spoke at the meeting, 28 opposed the committee’s formation, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported.

Former trustee and grandmother Lorraine Hackenschmidt had previously suggested, during the board’s May 8 meeting, establishing a committee to review school library books and remove any inappropriate ones, including “any books that caused our kids to question whether they are in the wrong body.”

One of the books mentioned as possibly inappropriate was the 2016 memoir Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen, written by U.S. trans activist Jazz Jennings. Jennings’ 2014 children’s book,  I Am Jazz, is one of the most frequently banned and challenged books of the past decade in the United States, according to the American Library Association.

During the school board’s May 22 meeting, board chair Linda Ross accused Hackenschmidt of pushing “errors and untruths” and “denying the reality of others.” Ross said, “Because it is not your experience does not mean that it is not the reality of others.”

Transgender student Jason Foster said that if books on gender identity are banned, trans youth “will think something is wrong. Children will hate themselves … Children are going to die because they believe their existence is wrong.” He added that he himself was told that the only way he would ever make his parents proud would be if they found his dead body hanging in their living room.

Penni Jones, a mother with a trans son, told the board, “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.”

One of the only two speakers to support the book-banning effort was John Roozendaal. He said, “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. 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 board voted 6-1 against forming the committee. Board trustee Breanna Sieklicki was the only member to vote in favor of forming the committee. She said she wanted to give a committee the power to review all books, not just the ones with LGBTQ+ content, stating, “We need to look at these books because why are we trying to sexualize kids in our schools?”

The school division received at least 289 messages responding to the book-banning proposal — only six supported it, the CBC wrote.

During the meeting, security guards removed a man who supported banning books. He ripped one of the “Don’t” signs in half so it said “Do.”

In the United States, school bans on LGBTQ+ books are “escalating dramatically,” according to the free-speech organization PEN America. The bans have largely come from Republican politicians, conservative school boards and so-called “parents’ rights” groups that have opposed such content as “woke indoctrination” that’s “inappropriate” for school children.

About one-third of the 1,586 books banned from schools nationwide have LGBTQ+ themes and characters, PEN America reported. In 98 percent of cases, the school districts didn’t follow First Amendment protections to ensure that government officials don’t ban or punish free speech, PEN America reported.

Editor’s note: This article mentions suicide. If you need to talk to someone now, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. It’s staffed by trans people, for trans people. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgment-free place to talk for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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