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Museum Monday: Asha's Mums

(Guest post by Arleigh McKerlich)

Children’s book “Asha’s Mums” was one of the first books written for elementary age children that portrayed a family with same-sex parents. Written by Rosamund Elwin and Michele Paulse and illustrated by Dawn Lee, it was first published in 1991.

In the book, Asha is told by her teacher that she can’t go on a field trip because her permission slip is filled out incorrectly and that it is not possible to have two mothers. After her mothers meet with the teacher to explain their daughter’s family situation, Asha is allowed to go on the trip. The other children learn of Asha’s mums and a discussion is had about whether this is a good or bad thing. The conclusion offered by the teacher is that it is just fine, as long as your parents take good care of you.

In 1997, kindergarden teacher James Chamberlain applied for approval of this book and two others (“Belinda’s Bouquet” and “One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads”) for use as teaching aids in his classroom. In response, the Surrey School Board issued resolutions that stated resources from gay and lesbian groups were not approved for use or redistribution in the school district.

After these resolutions were passed, resources like library books, pamphlets, and posters that promoted sexual diversity and tolerance were removed from all Surrey schools. Chamberlain — supported by teachers in other school districts in the Lower Mainland where these materials were allowed — launched a court case to challenge the ruling of the Surrey School Board. After much publicity and appeals by both sides, the case was considered by the Supreme Court of Canada and judgement handed down in 2002. The Court found that the Board’s decision was unreasonable and that the Board had acted contrary to provincial statute as well as its own regulations regarding curriculum materials, both of which stress tolerance and inclusion. The Court directed the decision to be reconsidered by the School District, with Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin noting that “tolerance is always age-appropriate.”

(full text of the decision available at http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/2002/2002scc86/2002scc86.html)

After revisiting its decision in 2003, the Surrey School Board still found “Asha’s Mums”, “Belinda’s Bouquet”, and “One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads” to be inappropriate for use as curriculum material. The Board was critical (among other things) of the books’ depiction of men, problematic and inconsistent grammar, and of the issue of dieting being inappropriate for kindergarden age children.

While 18 of the province's 60 school districts have policies in place regarding anti-homophobia, Burnaby and Surrey School Districts have not been able to develop a policy because of push-back from parents. Recently, protest and submissions from students have led the Surrey School District to say last summer that they would begin developing an anti-bullying policy in the fall that includes anti-homophobia strategies, as well as racism and physical disability

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