Book bans: the thin end of the wedge
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“I couldn’t have been able to love myself without help from media or books containing people like me in them.” — Sixteen-year-old Brandon student Jason Foster, speaking to hundreds in attendance at a Brandon school board meeting at the Vincent Massey High School gymnasium.
“These groups want to deny the experience and very existence of people in our communities and in the province and will pressure local institutions and leaders to act on false narratives. It will not stop with books.” — Melanie Sucha, president of the Manitoba Library Association.
“I would rather have a healthy son than a dead daughter, which is a reality that parents in the LGBTQ community constantly worry about.” — Penni Jones of Brandon, the parent of a transgender child.
Let me begin this visit with a shout-out to Jason Foster, Penni Jones and everyone else who packed a school board meeting in the gym at Vincent Massey High School in Brandon on Tuesday. They were there to fight a proposed ban on sexual and LGBTTQ+ content in school libraries.
This is 2023 and in all parts of North America, including “Friendly Manitoba”, we are dealing with outright bans and proposals to ban reading materials in school libraries that have to do with gender identity.
It was 49 months ago that a longtime personal and political friendship was ruptured, primarily over the issue of respect for LGBTTQ+ reality.
My former friend’s name is Jason Kenney.
Canadian conservatism was my home for most of my adult life. Kenney was a leader in the movement. We had known each other for many years.
But two weeks before the last Alberta provincial election in May of 2019 Kenney, who was the leader of the provincial conservatives in Alberta (known as the UCP) appeared on my national radio show.
It was two days after the release of audio from a member of his caucus. That caucus member had made remarks that were extremely homophobic. He denied the reality of gay love.
I challenged Jason Kenney to stand by his word to me on how he would deal with this kind of “bozo eruption” during a campaign. Because a former political leader — named Danielle Smith — had a similar eruption during her campaign four years earlier, and because ignoring it cost her Wildrose Party the election, Kenney told me that if something similar happened, he would tell voters that his candidate would not be seated in his caucus, should voters in the riding choose to elect him.
I asked Kenney to keep his word and honour the pledge he had made on my show months earlier. He refused.
That refusal, which I viewed as a betrayal to Albertans and to his old friend, lit me up like a Christmas tree.
It exposed Jason Kenney, a Conservative heavyweight, for the first time in public as a moral coward — just another lying politician. The live throwdown with Kenney made national headlines. I did several interviews about what happened, including one with Carol Off on CBC’s As It Happens. When she asked me why I was animated about the issue of LGBTTQ+ rights, I told her that for me it was all about a chimney at Auschwitz, which my paternal grandparents had shared with gay people.
It used to be said that Jews were the canaries in the coal mine. When a society began to heavily discriminate against Jews, it was just a matter of time before others were added to the list.
I want to thank the school division board members in Brandon for saying no to the book banners. The chimneys of Brandon will not become the final resting place for books that enlighten and empower our fellow human beings.
That includes the latest to be singled out in the coal mine of bigotry, transgender people.
I want to publicly ask my longtime friend, Premier Heather Stefanson, to revisit her traditional position on book banning.
While she is personally offended by the idea of book banning, she is opposed to having the provinical government put a cork in it. She wants the issue dealt with locally, by local authorities. And thankfully that happened this week in Brandon.
But I would respectfully ask the premier to think of this not as a local issue, but as a worldwide clash between authoritarianism and democracy. The far right is on the march.
Book banning is only one step on a journey into darkness. Whether it’s Brandon or any other city or town or village in this great province which treasures democracy, equality and human rights, our children’s books should never find their way into a chimney.
Charles Adler is a longtime political commenter and podcaster. firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Adler is a longtime political commenter and podcaster.