“Transphobic and hateful” comments lead to Durham school board closing public gallery

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Published May 24, 2023 at 9:35 am

Future Durham District School Board meetings will be held without a public gallery after security and police had to evacuate a May 15 meeting over “homophobic, transphobic and hateful” comments made by some members of the audience.

Education Director Camille Williams-Taylor said the Board has a “responsibility” to ensure the safety of everyone who attends a meeting and admitted she erred in not clearing the room earlier at the meeting after some members of the audience were “made to feel unsafe.”

“We have a responsibility to the safety of all participants in our learning and working spaces, of which our boardroom is one, both virtually and in-person,” Williams-Taylor said, adding that the behaviour of some in attendance at that meeting were “were intimidating and harmful” and that the Board “firmly rejects and condemns” those actions. “These behaviours exemplified hatred, intolerance, bullying, and harassment.”

“In my optimism that the audience would ultimately return to a climate of respectful decorum, I waited too long to evacuate the gallery. This resulted in harm, and for this, I sincerely apologize.”

Meetings this week will be available for public viewing on a virtual platform and board members are “considering how to proceed” with future Board and Standing Committee meetings “in a manner that permits the engagement of the public while securing the safety of all participants.”

The extraordinary actions from the school board comes at a time when gay and trans youth in Durham’s schools are finding themselves under continued attack.

On May 17, the Progress Pride Flag was raised at all 136 DDSB schools as well as work sites including the Education Centre, recognizing the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. The Progress Pride Flag will remain raised through the month of June to respect Pride month.

Williams-Taylor said the Progress Pride Flag is “a testament” to the advancement society has made in “recognizing and valuing the diversity that exists within our schools and nurturing a community where everyone has a place just the way they are. “

The DDSB has been raising the Pride Flag since 2015, symbolizing support of 2SLGBTQI students, staff, and community members and representing the board’s “firm rejection” of exclusion, discrimination, violence, and hate.

The board will be participating in the upcoming Pride Parade to be held June 4 in Ajax.

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