LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Community responds to proposed book ban
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It is with great sadness that I read in the Brandon Sun that there had been a delegation to the school board to ban books that speak to our two-spirit, trans, nonbinary+ and queer students that attend our schools here in Brandon.
I affirm and stand in solidarity with these students whose identities and lives are under attack. It is heartbreaking to learn that queer identities and rights are being questioned and threatened here in Brandon, and in our schools no less. We want our schools to be a safe place for all students.
After listening to Ms. Hackenschmidt’s presentation, I am appalled that she would quote Viktor Orban, a known authoritarian, who has made it his signature move to discriminate against LGBTQ+ and two-spirit citizens. Banning books is also top on the list for authoritarian governments, and Ms. Hackenschmidt is playing right into the authoritarian playbook.
To equate the reading of transgender-themed books with sexual grooming of youth and pedophilia is so misinformed and so hurtful. This claim is clearly at odds with all the known research regarding pedophilia.
I hope the school board will follow the Values Framework and continue to provide a “quality education, free from discrimination irrespective of race, national or ethnic origin, religion, language, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, physical/social/emotional/intellectual ability and beliefs.”
No books should ever be banned. Books are where we can see ourselves and our lives represented. When we ban books, we jeopardize students’ education and development. Books give students a glimpse of a world they don’t actually see every day. Books can foster empathy and understanding. They challenge us to re-think what we know and imagine what is possible. Isn’t that what education is about? Learning things we don’t already know?
If our society isn’t strong enough to withstand the weight of difficult or challenging ideas, then something must be fixed in our society. Banning books is not the fix.
Dear child of our beautiful planet:
Maybe you feel anxious
Maybe you have two moms
Maybe you speak with your hands
Maybe you are Wiccan
Maybe there is more tension than laughter
in your home
Maybe you are questioning
Maybe you feel judged
Maybe your family does not eat meat
Maybe you hide to take your daily meds
Maybe your skin is darker than your friend’s
Maybe your grandmother is a residential
Maybe your dad speaks with a heavy accent.
Books that celebrate you, your identity, your community
Will always be welcome in my library. Always.
I choose kindness.
With love from your friend,
I was delighted to learn that any individual or group within the Brandon School Division is welcome to appear before the board of trustees and have their presentation heard.
I certainly look forward to reading about future presentations. Perhaps from the Flat Earth Society (seeking to ban all globes in school) or the Elvis is Alive and Working at Burger King Coalition (seeking to make deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches mandatory in school canteens).
My faith has been a source of comfort and resilience throughout my life. Cherished memories, quiet moments for reflection and inspiration. Strength of community, with the common goal of service and honouring life in all its forms.
Growing up in the church has admittedly sheltered me from many external opinions and realities. Exposing a damning history of unimaginable pain and suffering, intentionally inflicted on other human beings. It appears to be all too common to turn a blind eye to these injustices when you are not the one experiencing that suffering, excused by the delusion of righteousness. This fallacy of “faith” intentionally breeds fear and hate for personal gain, manipulation and control.
Fear cannot continue to be disguised as religion. Ignorance can only be met with information and freedom of information should never be controlled, no matter the topic. Period.
Claiming to protect someone from knowledge is harmful. It should be a basic human right to learn about and understand the world around us, including learning about our bodies, in every way they exist. We should have access to all the books. Every imaginable book, so we can ask every question and listen to every possible answer. Books have the power to create opinions built from awareness, not fear.
This evil is not of the God I want to know, and it has become harder and harder to defend my faith, how I have experienced it. Being a silent bystander is a privilege. It is a privilege to pick and choose the pieces of faith you identify with, when you are not the target of hate. When your children are not the children stolen, traumatized, abandoned and forgotten. When you are not the outcast because of who you love, the choices you make about your body and who you are.
This evil creates a vicious cycle of discrimination. People kill themselves and each other, fuelled by false fears and strategically twisted control.
My faith brings me peace that I am forever grateful for and teaches humility, understanding and compassion. I will not pretend to have the answers to these important and complicated questions. If it is right or wrong to believe in something bigger than myself. Whether to stay or abandon a church, a religion or a faith that does so much good for some but causes so much harm to others.
I choose to surround myself with people and opinions different from my own. To learn from them and to learn from the information available to me. Perhaps yes, from a place of privilege. I make many mistakes, mistakes from my own ignorance, but I am grateful for the grace of others, who choose to speak with respect and the intention of trying to be a better human being.
My name is Valerie Parker, a 37-year-old lesbian woman living in Winnipeg.
I am writing on the recent call to ban certain LGBTQ+ and sex education books from libraries in the Brandon School Division — it’s very concerning.
As someone who grew up in a religious household and never saw any queer representation or media, I can say it was very challenging going through adolescence. Even without seeing anyone like me, I still knew I felt different even if I didn’t know why. Only seeing straight relationships and being taught that was the only way did not change who I was born to be, all it did was lower my self-esteem and made me feel othered.
As an adult, I finally was able to fully accept myself as a lesbian woman. I can only imagine how much amazing it would have been to read books that told me I was OK, it would have had an immense positive impact on my mental health, likely I would not have lived in shame so many years and could have been at peace with myself sooner.
Having age-appropriate sexual education books for young people that shows the diversity of our world has nothing to do with pedophilia and grooming, and to link those things together is ignorant, false and discriminatory. Learning that some people are transgender or gay does not make a person transgender or gay, just like only seeing straight relationships did not make me straight. But it can build a world of acceptance and kindness to those that are different from us.
Everyone should have the choice to read, or not read, whatever books they choose. The choice of one, however, should not dictate whether all have access. Please continue to do whatever you can to support the library and empower young people to think for themselves.
Thank you for your service to the community.
An open letter to the Brandon School Division board of trustees, Lorraine Hackenschmidt and members of the community.
I recently watched the presentation “transgender books in our school libraries” that was brought forward by Ms. Lorraine Hackenschmidt on May 8, 2023 at the Brandon School Division board meeting. I am a resident of Brandon, a mother of two young girls and a member of the LGBTQ+ community that Ms. Hackenschmidt clearly knows so very little about.
My family is very different from what Ms. Hackenschmidt likely views as a “traditional” family, but what she probably fails to realize is that we are more similar than we are different. My wife and I both work at the hospital here in Brandon, we contribute to this community and we are surrounded by friends and family who support us in our life together. We try to teach our girls strong moral values and encourage them to explore and ask questions about the world around us.
I grew up in a small town, as did my wife, we both have heterosexual parents and grew up in “traditional” families. We had absolutely no exposure to literature or media that represented who we were as individuals while growing up in these small rural communities and it mattered. Representation matters and literature can provide answers and reassurance for the youth growing up in our communities.
It is an undisputable fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young Canadians aged 10 to 24 and that LGBTQ+ youth are at significantly increased risk. Statistics show that LGBTQ+ youth are four to five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. If we as a community truly want to work toward protecting children, then we shouldn’t be forming a committee to ban educational books, but should be discussing what supports we can put in place for these students who are so obviously at increased risk in our schools.
We would love to believe that the Ms. Hackenschmidts of the world are the small minority, but with the pervasive presence of social media, those voices are becoming louder and their hateful rhetoric matters. Attempting to draw parallels between the LGBTQ+ population and the exploitation or grooming of children is absolutely abhorrent. This “research” conducted by Ms. Hackenschmidt has been debunked repeatedly as unfounded conspiracy theories.
Since the early 2020s, members of the far-right and a growing number of mainstream conservatives, mostly in the United States, have falsely accused the LGBTQ+ population, as well as their allies and progressives in general, of systematically using sex education and campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights as a method of child grooming and enabling pedophilia. These accusations and conspiracy theories are characterized by experts as baseless, homophobic and transphobic, and as examples of moral panic.
Let us call Ms. Hackenschmidt’s presentation what it was … hate speech. It is irrefutable that increase in language that vilifies LGBTQ+ individuals or minority groups correlates directly with increased violence against these populations.
Our oldest daughter is entering Brandon School Division as a kindergarten student next year. It is my hope that she will feel supported and seen in her school and that the existence of her family will be recognized and acknowledged. Most importantly, I hope she will be safe from hate speech and violence.
The messaging our children receive from their schools and community matters and it will matter greatly to my daughters. I’m often asked why we choose to raise our girls in such a small rural and often conservative community and my answer is always the same. We grew up here, our extended family still lives here, and family and a sense of community are the things most important to us. The majority of rural Manitobans we know are kind, loving, hard-working, community-minded people.
I often wonder if someone, who shares the same misguided beliefs as Ms. Hackenschmidt, was willing to meet my family and spend time with myself, my wife and our children, if their minds could be changed. If they truly got to know us and see the similarities between us instead of the differences; if that fear inside them would subside and they would choose love over hate, inclusion over exclusion, and peace over violence.
I ask the board of trustees to decline to form a committee to remove or ban educational books in our schools and instead consider forming a committee to focus on providing increased mental health supports to our vulnerable LGBTQ+ students as they will undoubtedly be greatly affected by the hateful rhetoric that has already increased in our community due to these recent conversations.
On May 6, 1933 in Berlin, Germany, Nazis seized control of the Institute of Sexology, a research institute dedicated to promoting equality for LGBTQ+ people and women through education. On May 10, the entirety of the institute’s library was emptied and those, along with 20,000 other books deemed misaligned to Hitler’s vision, were publicly burned as a message to those who the Nazis considered “Lebensunwertes Leben,” or “lives unworthy of living.”
LGBTQ+ individuals were among the first targeted in the holocaust that followed.
Ninety years later to the day, in an age where Hooters restaurants are marketed as “family friendly” and children carry in their pockets, for better or worse, computing power greater than that which put man on the moon and affords access to the collective knowledge of humankind, our community is confronted with a similar existential threat.
A member of the Brandon School Division board of trustees has shown support for banning books in our libraries, many of which contain LGBTQ+ narratives. It is asinine at best to pretend that banning books with LGBTQ+ content is anything other than a clear message to BSD students that their lives are unworthy of living.
Age-appropriate depictions of healthy and consensual intimacy support young people in identifying threats to their safety and bodily autonomy while removing shame and secrecy from developing sexual and gender identity encourage those who have identified those threats or, indeed, been victimized to come forward without fear of blame, ostracism and rejection.
The motivation then to keep children and youth ignorant and out of touch can only come from one of two places: the first, and most optimistic, however grim, is to ban, in effigy, the students themselves.
If we remove their representation from our stories, we erase the existence of those whom the stories represent. We communicate concisely to children who do not fit into what Brandon’s supposedly most morally righteous would consider “acceptable” that they are not welcome and they are intrinsically wrong and less than. In short, that their lives are unworthy of living.
The second, and more sinister motivation to keep young people ignorant of what healthy sexuality and intimacy looks and feels like, is the desire to victimize. If we teach children that anyone in a position of moral authority is acting in their best interest, they are less likely to recognize abuse, less likely to report, and those wielding their moral authority are less likely to face accountability for their actions. In short, keeping children ignorant, shamed and afraid is the very definition of grooming.
Furthermore, in a digital media landscape flooded with easily accessible pornography, decontextualized into short, stylized clips depicting, truly, man’s inhumanity to man (or more aptly, woman), the contextualization of intimacy within a written story encourages young people to understand and integrate the consequences, good and bad, of intimacy in their real lives.
Books are, and have always been, a safe haven for children struggling against a hostile world. Imagination and education is the gateway to hope. Education has only ever led to life, liberty and freedom. To learn new perspectives, new facts, different experiences, and new stories is not only integral to the development of empathy, but plays a key role in the development of critical thinking and decision making faculties.
For a young person to read the views, opinions or experiences of others and either see themselves represented and hold a deeper understanding of themselves, or realize they hold a different view should be one of the primary objectives of an education system. Anything short of this is indoctrination.
The decision of a BSD trustee to suggest banning books that differ from their experiences and understanding “takes courage” suggests not only negligence and incompetence in their position, but a wilful disregard for the key principles of the education of young people and a willingness to actively undermine the foundation of our education system. They are both incompetent and unfit to hold a leadership role in our community. For these reasons, I call upon any trustee who supports this deplorable practice to resign immediately from their position on the BSD board of trustees.
I am entirely in favour of dissent and protest. They are essential to a strong democracy and a robust discourse. I believe, however utterly devoid of expertise, Lorraine Hackenschmidt is well within her rights to speak her mind in a public forum. But let us not forget that freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence. It is now the responsibility of the Brandon School Division, our community leaders, our faith leaders and our politicians to communicate decisively that we will not pander to bigots who seek to undermine the hard-fought progress we have made towards fairness, equity, liberty and inclusion.
To the Hateful Few I say this: I pity you. Is there any greater indication of a lack of optimism and imagination than mean-spiritedness? How sad for the leaders of our community to don the robes of piety and moral righteousness only to pick on children. How corrupt to enact the theatre of concern to protect the abusers among you. How false to pin the blame on books while turning a wilfully blind eye to the very real abuses in our communities. How cowardly to hide behind reactionary grandstanding for political and social clout.
It doesn’t take an anthropologist or political scientist or historian to know that no one on the right side of history has ever started with a witch hunt or a book burning. Take off the hood. We all see you.
To LGBTQ+ young people in Brandon, I say this: you are of immense value. You contain within you unlimited potential for good. You are unbound by the shackles of doctrine weaponized against you. You are not what the most hypocritical and sinister among us say you are. You deserve health and happiness in abundance. You deserve acceptance and support and community in abundance and it is waiting for you beyond what you can now imagine.
Never stop learning. Stick together — there is strength in numbers. Let the ignorance and hate on display now fuel your camaraderie and determination. Know that you are not alone. Know that we have your back. Know that you are loved, not in spite of our differences but because of them.