‘Damaging’: Saskatchewan high school rejects author’s talk on son coming out as gay

Ruby Remenda Swanson says she never thought her hometown high school would be the only place to bar her from sharing her family’s story.

Remenda Swanson says she’s been to dozens of places in Canada, including two schools, to share her book “A Family Outing,” about what it was like when her teen son came out as gay.

In September, Humboldt Collegiate Institute in central Saskatchewan told her that due to a provincial government directive, it had to reject her from presenting at a student inclusion club later in the year.

“I got this email back, and it said, ‘As you’re probably aware, there’s been a lot going on in Saskatchewan over the past few months and we’ve been waiting for a directive,’” Remenda Swanson told The Canadian Press in an interview this week. She graduated from the high school in 1972 and now lives in Edmonton.

“It said, ‘We wish to thank you for your gracious offer. However, at this time, we are to follow the minister of education’s new mandate and must decline.’”

The author felt as if someone had kicked her in the gut, she said.

“So what’s the mandate? My book and me are banned?” she said.

The Horizon School Division, which oversees the high school, said in a statement that a staff member acted in a way they believed was in the best interest of the school and the division, and did not involve administrationin the decision to reject the author.

While it disagrees with some of the details recounted by Remenda Swanson, the division said it agrees schools need to be safe places for students and staff.

It said it apologizes for upsetting anyone and will work to ensure similar situations in the future are addressed appropriately.

“This has caused a great deal of confusion and unrest related to the position of the school and school division,” said the school division’s statement.

“We have deep concerns that the clear focus of our staff and board on creating inclusive and caring environments has been compromised.”

in August, the Saskatchewan Party government banned third-party organizations from presenting sexual education in school, as part of a suite of directives.

Another allows parents to pull their children from all sexual education courses, including human sexuality.

Children under 16 are also prevented from changing their names or pronouns at school without parental consent.

Lawyers on behalf of UR Pride, an LGBTQ group in Regina, took Saskatchewan to court over the pronoun directive. The government then enshrined the rule into legislation in late October and invoked the notwithstanding clause.

Remenda Swanson said she’s still left with questions, as her book talk in Humboldt would have had nothing to do with teaching sex.

The author said she would have shared how she and her family navigated her son’s coming out in Edmonton in 2002.

“I talk about secrets and how they destroy your soul,” she said.

“I talk about how important it is to support people, so they can feel confident that they can share their circumstances with you.”

Sexual assault centres, which are among thosebanned from presenting in Saskatchewan schools, have also said they’re perplexed, as they teach about prevention and consent.

Instead of presenting at her old school, Remenda Swanson said she held her talk at Humboldt’s public library in November.

She was sad there were no young people in attendance, she said, as it can be difficult for LGBTQ youth to attend public events that touch on the topic of coming out if they aren’t ready or won’t be accepted.

“For kids, their lives revolve around three places: their families, their friends and school. And school has to be a safe place,” Remenda Swanson said.

“I think it’s very damaging that youth aren’t exposed to a variety of reality in a public school setting.”

She said she’s been involved in promoting equal rights ever since her son came out. He is now 37 and engaged.

“I just felt that he should have the same rights and ability to live his life to the fullest.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2023.

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