The acronym SOGI stands for Sexual Orientation / Gender Identity. Generally speaking, SOGI education is an effort to create safe, inclusive environments that are respectful of differences, and maintain the dignity of all individuals. SOGI is a term that is intended to be inclusive of all orientations and identities. Our communities are made up of diverse citizens, including those from the LGBTQ community. The goals of SOGI education align with Human Rights laws that provide protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
SOGI is a relatively new term, but SOGI objectives include learning objectives that have been present in classrooms for a number of years, preceding curricular changes that have recently been implemented. SOGI is not a separate curriculum, but rather includes a variety of topics, vocabulary, and understandings that are integrated into existing curricular objectives.
In early grades, teachers facilitate conversations about families. They ask students to identify the members of their families and what family means to them. Students are asked to recognize that other families might be different from their own. Some students might come from single parent families. Some students might be being raised by grandparents. Some students might be adopted. Some students might be in blended families. Some students might be in foster care. Some students might have same-sex parents. The key understandings are that not all families are the same, and that all students, regardless of their family structure, are worthy of love, deserve to be respected, and need a safe, respectful place to learn and to have the opportunity to achieve their potential. Students often conclude that providing love and support is what makes a family.
Some examples of books that might be explored during a unit of study on family diversity might include:
A Family is A Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary, is about a young child who worries that her “family is not like everybody else’s.” She and her classmates are asked to share what makes their families special. The story is an adorable collection of vignettes about a diverse range of family structures. Practically every student will be able to identify with and make personal connections to the family representations in the book.
How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman is an amusing story about how two people from very different cultural backgrounds meet, fall in love, try to learn to adopt the eating customs of the other, and end up forming a family.
Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer is a story about a young girl’s dilemma about who to bring to a Mothers Day Celebration being hosted at her school, because she doesn’t have a mother, but has two dads instead.
In later grades, teachers engage students in understanding the negative impacts of name-calling. They facilitate activities that encourage students to be empathetic, and to recognize how someone else might feel. They help students to recognize that hurtful language can have lasting impacts. They also explore why certain words are hurtful, and the importance of using respectful language. Students develop an understanding of what bullying is, including homophobic bullying.
They also engage in developing understandings of perceptions of masculinity and femininity. Though these sound like sophisticated concepts, they can be explored from the perspective of what toys or activities are stereotypically perceived as appropriate for girls, or appropriate for boys. As a society, we seem to be willing to accept that a girl might have preferences for activities that are typically associated with boys, but there continues to be a lot of negative judgment about boys who prefer activities more typically associated with girls. Again, the emphasis is on recognizing that some behaviours or preferences may be different than our own, and that regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the behaviours we observe, we have an obligation to engage in respectful interactions.
Some picture books that might be explored during this topic could include:
The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein is about a duck who is bullied for being unathletic, but perceptions of him change when he does something heroic.
Not all Princes Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen and Heidi Yolen Semple explores the idea that not every princess subscribes to a rigid set of societal expectations.
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino is about an imaginative, artistic boy who loves to play in his classroom’s dress up centre, but becomes unwelcome in the classroom spaceship when he dons a tangerine dress.
Some Novels or read-alouds might include:
The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams is a humorous story about a boy and his friend who bond while browsing over fashion magazines. The main character, Dennis, is talked into trying on a dress that his friend made and the pair decide to see if Dennis can fool people into believing he is actually a foreign exchange female student. Interestingly enough, the only reference to Dennis’ sexual orientation is his attraction to a female friend.
My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin is an engaging story about a young teenage boy who loves to dance. He prefers dancing to playing football and tries to balanceboth in order to simultaneously live out his passion and to satisfy his father’s athletic expectations. He gets engaged in a plot to win a dance contest to discredit the dance study that once rejected the female protagonist whose affection he is trying to win.
In intermediate grades, students continue to explore stereotypes and human rights. They explore injustices that have happened over the course of human history. Events like the Japanese Internment, Residential Schools, and the Holocaust are opportunities to understand how different groups have been targeted or persecuted for being perceived as different and / or threatening. Simultaneously, students engage in studies that promote seeing situations from different perspectives, exercising compassion, and standing up for injustice. Conversations around bullying involve the role of the bystander, and the possibility of advocating for or supporting someone who is being victimized.
In each of these scenarios, the emphasis remains on being respectful of others, and making connections to others’ experiences so that we can empathize with them and understand their perspectives. It is about recognizing that others may have different views or traditions, preferences or behaviours, but that every person needs to be treated with respect and dignity. Being able to converse with people of diverse backgrounds creates citizens who are thoughtful, engage in mutually respectful interactions, and understand how to show kindness and compassion to others. These objectives are often in alignment with the teachings of faith-based communities.
A more mature read that I did as a powerful read aloud in my Grade 6/7 classroom:
We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen is an engaging story told from two perspectives. One is gifted, eccentric Stuart, and the other is popular, social status obsessed Ashley. The pair become part of a blended family after Stuart’s mother passes away, and Ashley’s parents divorce after her father comes out as gay. Told with sensitivity, humour, and some brilliant characterizations the story tackles some mature topics (including bullying, homophobia, loss, and the value of friendships) in thoughtful and accessible ways.
Some understandings about sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity are important to these conversations, so that students who have LGBTQ identities are included in conversations, see themselves reflected in the curriculum, and are not discriminated against. The reality is that there are students in our schools who are LGBTQ, even if they don’t identify at this time. There may be staff or families of students with LGBTQ identities. SOGI education isn’t just about supporting LGBTQ students. SOGI provides students with the opportunity to learn about LGBTQ identities in a respectful context, rather than relying on negative myths or stereotypes to define those communities. Understanding our own, as well as other people’s experiences is what contributes to being a well-informed, thoughtful, and empathetic person, as well as an engaged respectful citizen that can function effectively in diverse communities.
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