Just in time for the new school year, Toronto District School Board Trustee Sam Sotiropoulos has angered members of the LGBT community with a divisive comment posted to Twitter over the Labour Day long weekend.
On Aug 29, 2014, Sotiropoulos wrote, “until I see scientific proof that transgenderism exists and is not simply a mental illness, I reserve the right not to believe in it.”
His comment prompted a flurry of responses from Twitter users, leading Sotiropoulos to later comment, “right on cue. The bullying and name-calling begins. Take note kids. Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.”
Sotiropoulos tells Xtra via email that he feels people misunderstood the intention of his comment. “I simply reserved the right to withhold judgement either way until I see the science,” he says. He was prompted to post the remark because of “concerns raised by parents” in his ward, though he does not elaborate on what exactly those concerns are.
He adds that the TDSB is a welcoming and inclusive school board where different opinions are valued. “I hope that never changes,” he says.
Mari Rutka, the chair of the TDSB, did not comment on Sotiropoulos’s posts but said that if people have an objection to any TDSB trustee’s social media use, they can file a complaint to their local trustee or the chair. The complaint would then be brought forward to the code-of-conduct committee. “Within that process, matters have to be treated very carefully,” Rutka says.
This is not the first time Sotiropoulos has made questionable comments. In March 2014, a motion he raised to have the Toronto Police Service enforce public nudity laws at the WorldPride parade failed. He later went on NewsTalk 1010 and asked host Jim Richards if he could be sure that there wasn’t a “kiddie fiddler” mixed up among the nude people.
While public nudity is illegal in Canada, nudity that is part of a rally or demonstration — like the Pride Parade — is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As well, Canadian courts consider being nude in an area that has been specifically set-aside for the purpose, such as a nude beach or nudist camp, legal.
Sotiropoulos says he is unconcerned about the impact his tweets and views could have on a potential reelection campaign — as of Sept 2, Sotiropoulos is not listed as a candidate in TDSB Ward 20 Scarborough-Agincourt.