Human rights museum forced staff to censor LGBT+ displays for schools

Managers at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights asked staff to censor LGBT+ content as they gave tours to some guests.

Employees say the museum made the requests for at least two years when certain guests visited, including students from religious schools.

In one case, the museum asked an LGBT+ worker to physically block a display about same-sex marriage so a passing group didn’t see it.

Gabriela Agüero, who worked as a tour guide at the museum, went to CBC News with allegations of censorship.

She said: ‘When I complained about it, [management said], “Well, that’s what we request and we have to honour the requests from the schools because they pay us for those tours.”

‘It was horrendous. I had to go sit with my gay friends on staff and tell them I did that. It was a horrific sense of guilt and very painful.’

The museum confirmed that they did allow schools to request that tour guides don’t show students some content.

That approach, which ran from January 2015 until mid 2017, included leaving out LGBT+ stories. However, the museum says they no longer tailor tours in that way.

‘Definitely an erasure thing’

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Brydon McCluskey

Meanwhile a current Canadian Museum for Human Rights employee claims the censorship on LGBT+ content wasn’t about shielding younger children from it.

The worker said the museum made the requests for groups of all ages. These included some high school students, diplomats and donors.

And the staffer added: ‘It was definitely an erasure thing rather than a worry about young children.’

Moreover, the employee said that even after the museum stopped allowing requests for gay content to be hidden, the censorship continued.

Instead, school staff members started standing in front of the alcove containing the same-sex couples’ exhibit. This way they blocked students from seeing it.

Heritage minister says museum should not ‘silence’ LGBT+ voices

The scandal has even reached the desk of Canadian Federal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault.

In a statement he said: ‘An institution like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights should not be perceived as condoning homophobia or engaging in self-censorship. Its role is to expose the realities of those whose voices have been silenced, not to silence them even more.’

Alongside claims about homophobia, former staff have gone public on social media to talk about racism at the museum.

As a result, the museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba, has hired local lawyer Laurelle Harris to review the complaints. Harris is an expert in women’s and black studies and meditation. Her initial report is due at the end of July and will include recommendations about how to move forward.

Meanwhile, museum CEO John Young has told staff he will not be seeking reappointment when his term ends in August.

In the internal email, he said the idea of hiding LGBT+ content is painful. And he added:

‘While this is not the museum’s policy, clearly there have been instances that are at odds with our “come and see approach”.

‘That is a failure on our part, and as the head of the museum, accountability for these shortcomings at the museum lie on my shoulders.’


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