LGBTTQ+ supporters send strong message against hate

The message most commonly emblazoned on signs and banners inside the Vincent Massey High School gymnasium on Tuesday night was “Don’t.” As in, “don’t ban books in our schools.”

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The message most commonly emblazoned on signs and banners inside the Vincent Massey High School gymnasium on Tuesday night was “Don’t.” As in, “don’t ban books in our schools.”

But “don’t” arguably had other meanings on this night. And the top of the list of alternate messages was “don’t poke the bear.”

Book-ban activists and sympathetic trustees on the Brandon School Division board pretty much had the floor to themselves on May 8 when an older woman uttered a torrent of hateful and erroneous claims about certain books in the library, including an allegation materials were connected to pedophilia and child pornography.

That one-sided conversation came to an end this week when several hundred people packed into the Vincent Massey gym. This time, trustees got the message loud and clear: stand up to hate and resist unfounded claims about library materials.

Brandon residents filled the Vincent Massey High School gymnasium Tuesday evening for a school board meeting as dozens of delegates spoke in response to a previous proposal to remove books from school libraries including LGBTQ+ literature and sexual education resources. (Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun)

After more than 30 presentations were heard — only two that reportedly spoke in favour of a ban — the school board finally voted on a motion to decline the request for a review of the books in question. That motion passed 5-1.

It is always tempting to read too much into the results of a single vote, taken at a single public meeting, where the crowd in attendance is so clearly and overwhelmingly on one side of a debate. However, this one meeting does reveal some fundamental truths about political discourse in this country.

First and foremost, if the often-referenced silent majority wants to be heard on a pressing issue of public interest, it has to actually show up. And show up in force.

In case the term “silent majority” causes you any discomfort, please note that consistently, and in mounting numbers in recent years, Canadians support LGBTTQ+ rights and protections. Opinion polls show about three-quarters of Canadians support same-sex marriage, and about two-thirds support the right of an individual to be open about their gender or sexual orientation.

First and foremost, if the often-referenced silent majority wants to be heard on a pressing issue of public interest, it has to actually show up. And show up in force.

That data should be a comfort to members of the Brandon board, and other library and school division boards, that are under siege by citizens with less popular and more extreme views.

Clearly, however, the strong majority that supports rights and protections for LGBTTQ+ people should not take that support for granted. Apathy and political disengagement that often manifest in low voter turnout have allowed extreme minority opinions to dominate public debate over many important social issues. We need only look at the United States for an example.

The American public strongly supports things like same-sex marriage, LGBTTQ+ rights and access to abortion. And they are generally split on the more complex issue of whether someone’s gender is assigned at birth.

However, in an age of historically low voter turnout, state legislatures dominated by politicians who run against the current of public opinion have been able to wage an unprecedented war against rights and protections offered to women and LGBTTQ+ people.

The majority of citizens that crowded the gymnasium were in opposition to banning books from Brandon School Division libraries during a board meeting at Vincent Massey High School on Tuesday evening. (Tim Smith / The Brandon Sun)

Are we witnessing a new age of progressive activism designed to stifle extreme social conservatives? It’s not entirely clear that the efforts we saw this week will continue in Manitoba communities.

Remember that the South Central Regional Library — which operates public libraries in Altona, Manitou, Miami, Morden and Winkler — is facing a similar campaign to ban books and no one from the silent majority has overwhelmed a meeting in that part of the province or held protests in Winnipeg in sympathy. Even though there have been calls to defund public libraries unless they agree to ban certain materials.

And there have been similar eruptions in Winnipeg. For anyone who is concerned about a growing threat to library materials from extremists, take note: the war on these books and the ideas in them is growing. Perhaps not in numbers of supporters, but certainly in the frequency of the attacks on libraries and librarians, and the dangerous rhetoric they employ.

In a time like this, political leaders need to show courage and clarity. Something that many of our leaders seem to lack.

Premier Heather Stefanson, who continues the noble work of repairing her reputation with the organizers of Winnipeg Pride (she skipped the June parade last year and was banned from future events), is still struggling to find the right words to support LGBTTQ+ people at a time of great threat.

Last week, when asked about the Brandon board debacle, Stefanson condemned “hate crimes” directed at LGBTTQ+ people but refused to condemn the toxic allegations that linked people from that community, and certain books, to criminal acts.


Families Minister Rochelle Squires (left), Premier Heather Stefanson, and president of Pride Winnipeg Barry Karlenzig during an announcement about Pride funding at The Forks on Tuesday.

This week, while announcing a new gender equity secretariat to provide more support to LGBTTQ+ Manitobans, Stefanson acknowledged that this community often faces “increased risks of negative outcomes.” It’s a small improvement over her weak comments about the situation in Brandon, but it’s moving in the right direction.

The threat posed by social conservatives is real, and leaders like the premier need to step up their games. And that makes demonstrations of strength by the LGBTTQ+ community and their supporters both symbolically and practically important.

Now and for the near future, they will serve as the thin, rainbow-coloured line against hate and intolerance.

Dan Lett

Dan Lett

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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