Museum CEO takes blame for censored student tours
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This article was published 18/06/2020 (1086 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights announced he would not seek reappointment after the museum admitted Thursday its employees had conducted tours for student groups that excluded LGBTTQ+ content for two years, starting in 2015.
In an email obtained by CBC, John Young informed staff that he accepted responsibility for the practice. His appointment, which took place in 2015, is set to expire in August.
Museum spokeswoman Maureen Fitzhenry confirmed earlier Thursday the practice was allowed for schools that requested it. “This was wrong and never should have happened,” she said in a statement, adding that the museum was aware of and “extremely concerned about” allegations by current and former museum employees.
“In 2017, in response to concerns identified and raised by employees, staff who book school programs were instructed not to facilitate such requests for adaptations to our education programs,” Fitzhenry said in the statement.
Former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray, who is gay, said in a tweet he had resigned from the board of the fundraising arm of the museum “over this betrayal of its mandate and all of us who worked hard to see it built and whose stories of overcoming hate are told within its walls.”
Several former and current museum employees, including those who identify as LGBTTQ+, have come forward to say they were asked to provide tours for student groups in which LGBTTQ+ content was censored at the request of the schools involved. Such allegations began to appear in an online campaign created by former employees Thiané Diop and Julie White last week. The Instagram account collected people’s stories of alleged racial discrimination by museum management.
Jonas Desrosiers, who delivered school programs and held tours at the museum from August 2014 to August 2016, said he had been asked to censor LGBTTQ+ content on tours for school groups that requested it.
Desrosiers, who is a member of the LGBTTQ+ community, said he was “flabbergasted” the first time it happened.
“I didn’t understand how a museum dedicated to human rights would choose to censor (one) human right over others,” he said in a message to the Free Press.
He said when he asked why the option was offered, he was told the museum had to comply with the requests of school groups, and that if some parents wouldn’t allow their students to go to the museum, their “exposure to human rights as a whole would be limited.”
After conducting one censored school tour, he refused to do another one.
Arielle Morier-Roy worked as an interpretive guide from August 2014 to October 2016. She said despite openly identifying as a queer woman, she was asked “once or twice” to give a censored tour to a school group. She was given the same reason by museum management.
“I think the reaction was a little bit of outrage and disbelief, to be honest,” she said.
Morier-Roy said she loved her job, but she felt alienated. She said she stopped raising her concerns with management, and it became a factor in why she decided to leave. “I don’t see how stories of LGBTTQ+ rights are less important to tell than all these other stories we were saying,” she said.
Both Desrosiers and Morier-Roy credited Diop and White for their willingness to speak out publicly.
On Thursday, federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault read a prepared statement that says he takes “very seriously” the “apparent cases of self-censorship of LGBTTQ+ realities” at the museum, and had been in touch with museum management.
“An institution like (the museum) should not be perceived as condoning homophobia or engage in self-censorship. Its role is to expose the realities of (people) whose voices have been silenced — not silence them even more,” Guilbeault said.
—With files from Dylan Robertson
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, June 18, 2020 10:19 PM CDT: Adds CEO email