A Catholic elementary school teacher in Toronto has been criticized by an anti-abortion group because he chose a book that affirms children who are different from others for his fifth and sixth grade students.
Paolo De Buono read The Boy Who Cried Fabulous by Leslea Newman to his students. The storyline follows a boy who is unlike other boys, but the book does not explicitly label him as gay or transgender. De Buono explained to Global News:
“‘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.'”
On the author’s website, Newman explains that the main character “is ‘different,’ much to his parents’ dismay, until he teaches them just how fabulous being different can be.” De Buono has also read books to his class about difference that include A Tale of Two Mommies, A Tale of Two Daddies, and Sparkle Boy.
The content of The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, however, was too dangerous for the Campaign for Life Coalition, a Canadian anti-abortion organization, which called for De Buono to be fired. Jack Fonseca, its director of political operations, accused the teacher of promoting “grave scandal” by allegedly violating church teaching as a “pro-gay activist teacher” who “crossed a line and needs to be fired immediately.”
De Buono defended the use of the book with Catholic values:
“‘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.”
“‘We have to teach our students about racism, about homophobia, about sexism right from the start,” he added. DeBuono’s classroom contains signs designating it a “safe zone,” and with other messages such as, “It’s ok to be gay in a Catholic school.” Delaying a discussion about homophobia until later grade helps to create “targets for bullying,” he observed.”
De Buono started a petition asking the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), which employs the teacher, to ignore the anti-abortion group’s call for his firing. The petition, available here, has received more than 1,200 signatures. It argues that De Buono’s use of The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, as well as other affirming books, is consistent not only with Catholic values, but with TCDSB own “Equity Action Plan” and “Code of Conduct,” as well as government requirements for inclusive education.
Previously, when TCDSB was deciding over the past year about whether to provide expanded LGBTQ protections, including those for gender identity and expression, De Buono spoke out favorably for such protections. He previously stated, “as a Catholic teacher, my religious and professional response is to choose inclusion and not exclusion.” Those protections have since been approved.
On this recent incident, TCDSB released a statement that it would not comment on “any possible action against De Buono,” adding that “teachers are responsible for using their professional judgment to meet the age-appropriate curriculum expectations, […] if necessary, [they] should consult with their school principal to inform their teaching and the use of effective resources.”
Dr. Kristopher Wells, a researcher at MacEwan University, Edmonton, who studies LGBTQ youth, defended Du Buono:
“This group [Campaign for Life Coalition] 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. . .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.”
Robert Shine, associate director of New Ways Ministry, commented further:
“Catholic education at its best commits to ensuring that students come to know God loves them just as they are and to recognizing that unity as God’s people only comes about by welcoming the diverse ways in which God has created us. Sharing the message that being different is not only okay, but is to be celebrated as divinely ordained conforms to the best of our church’s tradition. It would be a tragedy if Paolo De Buono faced any negative consequences for teaching such acceptance.”
–Emily Win, April 2, 2020