Pride vs. Prejudice: Potent hate still lurking in Brandon’s corners

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A little more than six years ago, for a full week in June, my office phone line was swamped with irate readers who were angry that we had dared to publish a picture of a pair of men dressed in drag on the front page of the paper.

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Opinion

A little more than six years ago, for a full week in June, my office phone line was swamped with irate readers who were angry that we had dared to publish a picture of a pair of men dressed in drag on the front page of the paper.

The image of the two men in question, sporting costumes both colourful and wonderfully outlandish, were a perfect front page image of a real and newsworthy event in our community — the second Pride march in Brandon’s history in 2016.

And while the photo was quirky and fun, the dozens of people on the other end of the line with me who had called in to complain that week were anything but. How could I allow something “so horrific” into the pages of the Sun, let alone the front page of the paper, they said. But rational explanations don’t always work well with those who only wish to vent their anger and contempt, and that week was certainly among my most memorable as editor.

File There is still a need for pride events to ensure LGBTQ+ people feel safe in community spaces.

Sometimes sticking to your guns can be a painful process, but I still say it was worth the time, effort and irritation. For there is a reason this newsroom and other citizens of this city continue to support the queer community and beyond — discrimination against LGBTQ+ people does not simply disappear so easily, and it’s important to stand up for all who face bigotry and discrimination.

I had believed that the Brandon School Division felt the same. But now, I’m not so sure.

This week, the K-8 Maryland Park School was initially scheduled to hold a “pride day” to support the LGBTQ+ community. A poster that had advertised the event suggested that students wear rainbow colours as a show of support.

At least a few parents whose children attend the school, along with the chair of Brandon Pride, were discouraged to see the poster had been edited this week to say it was instead a “rainbow day” to “support the school community by wearing rainbow colours.”

One of these parents told the Sun that 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.”

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

This watering down of a pride event, one that was clearly meant to resist prejudice and homophobia within the broader school community, seems quite at odds with the Brandon School Division’s own human diversity policy, which was adopted several years ago.

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

In short, teaching students about human diversity and the LGBTQ+ community is not about teaching sexuality, or about grooming children to join the LGBTQ+ community. And yet, that’s what the Brandon School Division would seemingly have us believe, by allowing parents to “opt-out” of the school event as if this were some kind of sex education class.

“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,” read a statement sent to the Sun by Maryland Park School principal Barbara Miller. “Parents have been given the option to choose which learning activity is most appropriate for their child for that portion of the afternoon.”

I think it’s unfortunate that Supt. Mathew Gustafson did not take the time to speak with the Sun directly this past week regarding the school’s decision. Merely issuing statements does not provide useful, clarifying information when situations like these arise, particularly when nearly all of our questions to the division were left unanswered.

I also believe the school has a duty to abide by its own human diversity policy, which means ensuring that students who are LGBTQ+ do not feel that they have to be ashamed of who they are because a few of our citizens can’t see past their own prejudices.

If you believe I’m wrong to criticize the school division in this way, and that maybe the chair of Brandon Pride is being too reactionary over the situation at Maryland Park School, then know that a comment sent to our Sound Off feature Friday morning praised the school’s decision to remove any reference to the LGBTQ+ community.

The anonymous commenter suggested the school division had nothing to apologize for, that the LGBTQ+ community were “pushing themselves on the rest of the community,” and that the “genie” should be “put back into the bottle.”

The person who wrote this hateful comment, and people like them, are why pride events still exist — and why they need to exist, loud and proud and colourful.

» Matt Goerzen, editor

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