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Advocacy group furious over Catholic board restricting 2SLGBTQIA+ books

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board has placed four books with 2SLGBTQIA+ themes into its 'PRO section,' which requires Catholic context in order to take them out for students below Grade 7
A counterprotest to the '1 Million March 4 Children' protest against sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum in schools surrounded the field near Victoria Park's clock tower last month.

"It's maddening."

That was the reaction SPECTRUM executive director Scott Williams had when he heard the news that four 2SLGBTQIA+ themed books were being restricted by the Waterloo Catholic District School Board for students in kindergarten to Grade 6.

Salma Writes a Book by Danny Ramadan, The Mystery of the Painted Fan by Linda Trinh, Princess Pru and the Ogre on the Hill by Maureen Fergus and Jude Saves the World by Ronnie Riley are the four books in question.

Jude Saves the World, for instance, is about a 12-year-old struggling with not being able to come out as non binary to their old-fashioned grandparents. After Jude and their friend Dallas meet a girl in their class who has been ousted from her friend group because of what is believed to be a crush on another girl, the three form a queer safe space in their community.

Lema Salaymeh, senior manager of communications for the WCDSB, confirmed the four titles were put into the Professional (PRO) section of elementary libraries. 

"The PRO section is primarily used by teachers, but students can borrow resources from that section if the teacher provides a Catholic context," Salaymeh said.

"Books are also categorized based on age-appropriateness of the title, rather than the topics addressed in the book. A book may be moved to PRO because the subject matter might not be age appropriate. For example, same sex relationships enter the Family Life curriculum at grade seven. A book with 2SLGBTQIA+ themes written for grades four to six may be entered into PRO."

Williams said putting restrictions on these types of books is only adding to the divide and struggle 2SLGBTQIA+ people face in the community.

"Restricting access to books that include 2SLGBTQIA+ content will not erase 2SLGBTQIA+ people from history but it can make life more difficult for 2SLGBTQIA+ children," Williams said.

"Children are exposed to heterosexual relationships and the gender binary from birth. If they're mature enough to understand a relationship between people of different genders then they can understand relationships between people of the same genders."

The four books have been nominated for Forest of Reading awards. Forest of Reading is Canada's largest recreational reading program but participation in it is optional, Salaymeh said.

While the program could look different from school to school, Salaymeh believes having the Catholic schools involved shows its commitment to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

"The addition of the Forest of Reading titles to our school library collection is a testament to our ongoing commitment to supporting our 2SLGBTQIA+ staff and students through our message of inclusion and belonging," she said.

"This support, which includes offering books specifically related to 2SLGBTQIA+, is part of the commitment we make that affirms the dignity and worth of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

Williams disagrees.

"The WCDSB's vision talks about being a 'place for all'. It's remarkable how often they seem to need to be reminded of that," he said.

"The reason we have public education is because we've decided that an educated populace is of benefit to our society. That means we need to provide resources and education on all aspects of society to prepare students for life as adults. 2SLGBTQIA+ people exist. We exist in the world and we exist in Waterloo Region."

Despite the many obstacles his organization faces, whether it be protests or book restrictions, Williams said SPECTRUM will continue to fight for the rights the community deserves.

"People who oppose the rights of 2SLGBTQIA+ find themselves on the wrong side of history," he said.

"Someday, the folks who are banning books and trying to prevent 2SLGBTQIA+ youth from accessing critical healthcare and education will need to look their queer and trans children and grandchildren in the eye and ask for forgiveness for making their young lives so challenging."