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Teen seeks apology after northern Ontario school board cancels visit from drag performers

The Pride flag pictured in Kingston, Ontario on Wednesday June 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg.

A teen in northern Ontario is seeking an apology from his school board after it cancelled an event featuring drag performers who are travelling to Canadian schools with the aim of educating students and uplifting LGBTQ youth.

Ra’Jah Mohamed, 16, was helping to organize a stop in Sudbury, Ont., by the Courage Across Canada Tour _ which features former contestants of the television show “Canada’s Drag Race.” It was set to be hosted Feb. 10 at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, which Mohamed attends.

Mohamed, who is a member of the LGBTQ community, said he was told twice by Rainbow District School Board representatives that they felt the event would be “hypersexual” before they cancelled it in mid-January.

“I found it outrageous,” the Grade 11 student said in a phone interview on Friday.

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“They had this decision without looking at the facts of the matter, without actually speaking to other schools that have hosted this event and … would attest to how appropriate, professional and educational it was.”

Mohamed, who started an online petition demanding an apology from the board, said his school had individually approved the event and buses had been booked to bring students from other northern areas to the venue.

The cancellation perpetuates negative stereotypes “as old as time” about drag performers, he said.

“They should be held accountable,” Mohamed said of the board.

A spokeswoman for the school board said Friday that while vetting the event, the board determined “it did not include the educational content for a secondary school setting.”

“There were no wrap-around supports for students who may be questioning their identity or students who may never have experienced a performance of this nature,” Nicole Charette said.

The board chose to focus instead on existing workshops it has planned for LGBTQ youth, Charette said.

Mohamed argued the event was being held to a higher standard and said he had told the board the Sudbury session could be modified as needed.

Kimora Amour, who appeared on “Canada’s Drag Race” and was among those set to perform at the Sudbury school event, said she supported Mohamed’s call for accountability.

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“It is disappointing that at the last minute they decided to change it,” she said of the board.

“Our performances are very, very family orientated, children orientated and just uplifting.”

Before the tour began in January, the event’s scripts and performers’ attire were vetted by school boards and teachers to ensure the content was youth-friendly, she said.

“I am covered from head to toe,” she said. “I have an overcoat, a full crystal body suit completely covered with crystal fringe and sequined applique. It is completely appropriate.”

During the event, the performers tell students about their personal lives and the challenges they faced before become drag queens, and include education content, she said.

“It’s important for us to be able to reach out to the next generation to let them know it’s going to be OK, it’s going to be tough but there is light at the end of that rainbow,” she said.

The tour has already made stops in Charlottetown and Winnipeg for hundreds of youth, she said, and the response has been positively overwhelming.

“I spent half an hour in Winnipeg after a event just holding a young girl who was bawling her eyes out,” she said. “I just let her know that she means something … That’s just such an important message to deliver.”

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Mohamed said the Sudbury event planned at his school was a chance for LGBTQ youth in northern Ontario to know they are not alone.

“This would have given a chance to the people (in the community) to really see themselves, to understand that whole message of resilience,” he said. “That chance was taken away from them by the school board.”

A college in Sudbury has since offered to host the event, Mohamed said, and the number of students expected to attend has almost doubled.

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