Raining on the Pride parade

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The chair of Brandon Pride is searching for answers after a local school watered down a planned pride event to remove reference to its LGBTQ+ community.

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The chair of Brandon Pride is searching for answers after a local school watered down a planned pride event to remove reference to its LGBTQ+ community.

A photo sent to the Sun by a parent at Maryland Park School, who the Sun is not naming for privacy concerns, shows a poster that had advertised a “pride day” to “support the LGBTQ community by wearing rainbow colours” edited to say that it was a “rainbow day” to “support the school community by wearing rainbow colours.”

The anonymous parent said they believe the incident represents “a tug-of-war between people who support the LGBTQ community and people who aren’t in support of that community.”

File Ken Jackson, chair of Brandon Pride, addresses a crowd outside city hall during a flag-raising ceremony to kick off Pride Week 2018. The theme of this year’s celebrations is “Just can’t hide my pride.”

“Unfortunately, it feels like those who aren’t supportive of that community won this round,” the parent said.

The Sun first contacted the Brandon School Division on Wednesday for comment on the issue but was told that neither principal Barbara Miller nor Supt. Mathew Gustafson were available that day, but that Gustafson could be made available for a phone call on Thursday.

Following up on Thursday, the Sun repeated its request for an interview but was instead sent a written statement from Miller.

The statement referred to the event as a “rainbow day” intended to support diversity.

“As part of the day, students have the opportunity to participate in a Pride Walk or create Sunshine Notes for us to share with our friends at Victoria Landing,” Miller wrote. “Given the complexity of topics associated with a Pride Walk, the curricular connection to potentially sensitive content within the Health Curriculum, and to respect and support the many perspectives that people have, parents have been given the option to choose which learning activity is most appropriate for their child for that portion of the afternoon. As with all school related activities, we want parents to be active partners in the education process.

“Given the time of year and the business of school wrap up, our communication to families could have been more timely and provided more clarity as to the intent of the day as it was to be inclusive and celebrate the diversity that makes up the unique and beautiful fabric of our school community. It is important to take time to celebrate and continue to build a strong sense of community.”

The Sun had asked if the change was motivated by a parental complaint, but that question was not answered.

Brandon Pride chair Kenneth Jackson, who had heard about the issue through a contact on his on social media, said the change concerns him.

“In my address on Saturday, I said we have pride [events] because there are still so many things that still need improving or doing,” Jackson said referring to his speech before last week’s Brandon Pride march.

“Unfortunately, I think this is an example of that where it seems a school has a made a decision that, for whatever reason, is taking off of the emphasis that was originally planned and was probably going to be an excellent event. I would still like to know more about why this decision was made.”

In Florida, where the state recently passed a bill nicknamed “Don’t Say Gay” that banned discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity from being taught to students in elementary school, part of the justification was that children were learning inappropriate subject matter.

Jackson said he doesn’t believe that holding pride events inherently exposes people to sexual or explicit content.

“There is stuff that is sensitive and for the most part, I think our educators know that,” he said. “I don’t think our educators are going to teach something that’s inappropriate. Early years students, grades 1 and 2, are taught about the difference between families so that they don’t have to be shocked when they see two men or two women together as a family.

“If they were teaching way outside the curriculum, that might be something for discussion, but I really think this [excuse] is used to not have the discussion at all.”

The school division’s own human diversity policy states “Supporting LGBTTQ students are educational issues; they are not about religious beliefs, moral views or sexual practice. The real issue for any school to address is the creation of an educational environment that is free from prejudice, discrimination, homophobia and heterosexism.”

The parent who spoke about the issue to the Sun said it’s their experience that most children at the school are still referring to Friday as Pride Day, despite the name change.

Going forward, the parent said they hope the school division will put a greater emphasis on training staff about practices that are harmful to the LGBTQ+ community.

» cslark@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @ColinSlark

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