At least one labour group has withdrawn its support for Toronto public-school trustee Sam Sotiropoulos after he put forward a controversial motion to formally ask police to enforce nudity laws at this year’s Pride parade.
In response, Sotiropoulos said March 11 that straight, white men are “shit out of luck” at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).
Sotiropoulos proposed the Pride motion March 5, saying that “a lot” of parents have voiced concern about allowing “children to be exposed to nudity.”
A branch of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) financially supported Sotiropoulos’s 2012 election, but District 12 president Doug Jolliffe now tells Xtra they will not donate to his October reelection campaign.
“We did support Trustee Sotiropoulos in a by-election, but support will not be forthcoming in the fall,” Jolliffe says.
According to publicly available financial disclosures, Sotiropoulos received $5,000 in donations from nine labour groups during his ward’s 2012 by-election: $500 from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113; $750 from the Campaign for Public Education; $750 from the Elementary Teachers of Toronto; $500 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 353; $750 from the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4400; $750 from the Maintenance, Construction and Skilled Trades Council; $750 from OSSTF District 12; and $250 from the Toronto Labour Council.
Xtra contacted each group March 10 asking whether they support Sotiropoulos’s motion.
“OSSTF District 12 does not in any way support Trustee Sotiropoulos’s motion,” Jolliffe says, noting that the union runs a booth at the Pride parade and sponsors a luncheon at the Dyke March. “This year, because WorldPride is in Toronto, OSSTF is entering a float in the parade.”
An IBEW Local 353 official told Xtra the union supports but does not officially participate in the Pride parade and “does not have a position on the motion brought forward, nor would we support or speak against it.”
None of the other groups had responded to Xtra at time of publication.
One group that didn’t reply, CUPE Local 4400, describes its mandate as improving “the social and economic welfare of its members, without regard to gender, sexual orientation, colour, race or creed, and in compliance with the Human Rights Code.”
Accusations of bullying
“If you’re white, straight and male you’re SOL [shit out of luck] at TDSB, as nobody is using you as a pretext to funnel money into their pet projects,” Sotiropoulos tweeted on March 11.
It’s the latest in a series of colourful online messages posted by Sotiropoulos.
In an open letter dated Feb 14, Jolliffe accused Sotiropoulos of engaging in “harassing debate” on Twitter after trustees and councillors ridiculed him for tweeting about “homosexism.”
“It is a crisis,” Sotiropoulos recently said on AM640’s John Oakley Show. “The pendulum has swung entirely too far in that direction; it’s time to restore some balance in this conversation.
“I refuse to be bullied; I will not be shouted down on this issue,” he said, mirroring Doug Ford’s comments that Toronto’s LGBT community has “bullied” the mayor for never attending the city’s annual Pride parade.
After the March 5 TDSB meeting, Sotiropoulos took to Twitter to respond to critics. He said that Canada is not a secular state, quoting the first line of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”
“Secular? Really?” Sotiropoulos asked a detractor. “Last time I checked the head of state was a monarch based on divine right. Study more.”
In another incident last December, Sotiropoulos accidentally hit “reply all,” sending his fellow trustees a deluge of insults. “Some of our colleagues positively make my skin crawl; I don’t need to subject myself to their malicious misery, ill-breeding and sourpusses. It would be bad for my digestion. I would probably end up puking in someone’s face as I wouldn’t want to mess up your legendary kitchen,” he wrote. He stood by his words after realizing his mistake.
“Whoops! I hit Reply All by accident. Oh well, it’s not like I said anything untrue. That’s exactly how I feel. If you felt offended, perhaps you might want to ask yourself why it is that I feel as I do and how your behaviour may or may not have contributed.”
A group of TDSB trustees, including Sotiropoulos, have accused each other of harassment, intimidation and insults at meetings, leading the board’s chair to request a police presence.
Sotiropoulos described the March 5 meeting as “a classic exercise in cowardice and deliberate dissembling by several trustees.”
Pride motion vote in April
Meanwhile, a board spokesperson confirmed that Sotiropoulos’s motion will be carried onto the agenda for the next general meeting on April 9.
The motion is endorsed by John Hastings, a Rexdale trustee who did not reply to a request for comment.
Trustee Irene Atkinson also supported the motion, telling the Toronto Star, “It’s simple: I don’t believe males or females should be running around naked in the streets, and if they are, police ought to be called.”
Atkinson withdrew her endorsement before the March 5 meeting. LGBT residents of Atkinson’s Junction ward had contacted the trustee, who refused to tell Xtra why she withdrew her support.
“Sorry, I don’t want to talk about the Pride Parade any more,” Atkinson told Xtra in an email.
A 2012 Ontario ruling found that nudity at a rally or demonstration can be considered part of the Charter-guaranteed right of personal expression.