Librarians speak against request for book ban in Brandon schools

A grandmother, with two dozen supporters, asked the Brandon School Division to get rid of books that discusses gender identity and sexuality.

Teacher-librarians are urging school trustees in Brandon to brush up on their policies about human diversity and take “a very measured approach” to answer a request to remove LGBTTQ+ stories from their buildings.

“Everyone has the right to be listened to, but at the same time, students have the right to access information and they have the right to read, and nobody has the right to deny other people rights,” said Sandy Welbergen, president of the Manitoba School Library Association.

On Monday, grandmother Lorraine Hackenschmidt — along with at least two dozen supporters — attended a public meeting to call on board members in the Brandon School Division to get rid of reading material that discusses gender identity and sexuality.

The titles in question include award-winning memoir, Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings, Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye and It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, a children’s book by Robie Harris.

“Let us remove the materials that warp innocent minds before their brains mature,” Hackenschmidt said during a presentation that repeated the religious conservative movement’s claim that making transgender stories available to youth is a form of sexual grooming.

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Two trustees, one of whom applauded the presenter for her courage, thanked the attendees for bringing the subject to the board.

Pleas to ban books from school libraries are nothing new, but the dwindling number of trained professionals who oversee and manage collections in the province is, Welbergen said, adding that all demands should be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

The teacher-librarian indicated elected officials may want to brush up on school division policies.

“School libraries will strive to have the best and most up‐to‐date collection of age‐appropriate books on sexual orientation and gender identity issues and topics, including a variety of novels, short‐story collections, movies, and magazines for youth that are affirming of gender variance,” states an excerpt from an internal document revised in 2019.

“We want to have (school) collections that reflect the people that we teach,” Welbergen added.

Terri Curtis, communications co-ordinator for the division, said BSD supports welcoming learning environments that ”support and protect everyone, including transgender and gender-diverse people, and others who have not yet identified.”

All of the books that have sparked controversy remain available to students and staff at present, Curtis said in an email Thursday.

Manitoba has become “one of the hot spots” for book ban debates in Canada, said Jim Turk, who oversees the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University.

“It really is a renewal of a demand for censorship to stop society from being what it is and to change it back to the old ways, which in these folks’ minds was in the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s,” he said, adding many of the books “under attack” are among the most respected and highly regarded publications about sexual health education and LGBTTQ+ issues.

Kaie, a 2019 graduate from the division who identifies as queer and nonbinary, said the local book ban debate feels like “a direct attack.”

“If we have (these kinds of books), kids, teenagers and individuals won’t feel afraid, lost, trapped,” said the Brandon resident, who asked the Free Press not to publish their last name to protect their privacy.

“When you try to take out the representation of a group in schools, libraries — to be blunt, you’re trying to eradicate an entire group of people from the narrative when you try to take them out of having those safe spaces and representation,” said Aly Wowchuk of Brandon Pride.

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society and Brandon University are among the organizations that have explicitly condemned the delegation’s request.

Education Minister Wayne Ewasko said the province believes in “supporting safe and inclusive learning environments for all students” in a statement that noted boards also have the power to make decisions based on local needs.

BSD chairwoman Linda Ross declined to comment.

The board of trustees is anticipated to respond at a meeting on May 23.

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This story was originally published in The Free PressIt is republished under a Creative Commons license as part of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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