When Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) teacher Paolo De Buono read a book to his Grades 5 and 6 students, he says he never imagined it would lead to an attack on his career and reputation.
“We have to teach our students about racism, about homophobia, about sexism right from the start,” he said.
The book is called The Boy Who Cried Fabulous and it is written by Leslea Newman.
“Roger is ‘different,’ much to his parents’ dismay, until he teaches them just how fabulous being different can be,” Newman wrote on her website.
De Buono said the book could have many meanings and teachings.
“The book actually just says that the boy prefers the word ‘fabulous,’ his parents didn’t like that, couldn’t accept it first, and eventually they accept that that’s a special word for him,” he said.
“It also could help, for example, a student who is gay, feel comfortable at school and teach the importance of accepting students who are gay.”
It is that very lesson that has De Buono under attack by a national anti-abortion group.
“He is openly promoting the homosexual lifestyle and transsexualism to impressionable Catholic children. This violates Catholic moral doctrine and it represents a grave scandal to the faith,” said Jack Fonseca, director of political operations for Campaign Life Coalition, in a statement.
“This pro-gay activist teacher has crossed a line and needs to be fired immediately.”
However, De Buono said he stands by his choice of literature.
“Our Catholic religion should be the reason we read a book like The Boy Who Cried Fabulous. It’s OK to be gay in a Catholic school … there is nothing wrong with being gay in a Catholic school,” he said.
Dr. Kristopher Wells specializes in sexual and gender minority youth and education at MacEwan University in Edmonton. Wells said he too has been the target of Campaign Life Coalition for the work and research he does.
“This group is well known as an anti-LGBTQ organization, many would frame them as a hate group … but it’s just really quite shocking that here they would be targeting a teacher in a classroom,” he said.
“This teacher is doing what any good teacher should be doing. LGBTQ people exist in every community, every faith, every culture around the world and we should be focused on being proactive like this teacher is in bringing this representation into the classroom.”
De Buono has launched a petition online to keep his job.
“Be it resolved, that the Toronto Catholic District School Board should ignore the request from the leaders of Campaign Life Coalition and resulting requests to terminate the employment of Paolo De Buono as a teacher,” the petition, which has garnered close to 1,000 signatures, said.
The TCDSB would not comment on any possible action against Buono, but sent a statement to Global News.
“Teachers are responsible for using their professional judgment to meet the age-appropriate curriculum expectations as set out by the Ministry of Education and if necessary, should consult with their school principal to inform their teaching and the use of effective resources,” it said.
Outside De Buono’s classroom, there are several signs and posters describing it as a “safe zone” and reminded students, “It’s OK to be gay in a Catholic school” and “Words are powerful, choose them carefully.”
“If we delay talking about homophobia until later grades when we talk about racism, for example, right from the start, then we are creating targets for bullying,” he said.
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