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Points of Intersection – A Free VLOG Series

Join Carolyn Roberts, Beth Applewhite & Bryan Gidinski for a Vlog series – a space for underrepresented educators to feel connected. In this three-part series, we will explore creating community, empowering each other in the work, and building legacies of hope and joy. Using an intersectional lens, facilitators will hold space for unpacking the heavy lifting in the work we do, and address the particular needs of educators who face overlapping and intersecting forms of oppression.

Click on the image below to go directly to the first VLOG.

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What Hangs in the Balance…: Creating next year’s classes

Recently, I was presented with these questions:

“Any ideas on class loading based on gender?  Still have some teachers that are determined to load based on gender.  While they agree to not use “blue and pink” loading slips, they are going to add a spot for M and F and X….”

Here are some thoughts on how we determine class placements.

I wish there was a simple answer to this question, but there are many nuances to the conversation about how we build classes in a meaningful way.  These conversations are complicated when sex / gender plays a role in our concepts of what balanced means.

From a philosophical perspective, it’s helpful to have some conversation about what balance means, and what our objectives are in forming classes.  Having a shared view of what this means can be helpful, though I recognize that trying to create time and investment in these conversations can be difficult amongst the myriad of other demands of this complex profession.

I struggle with the move away from the pink and blue slips, if we’re simply going to reinforce the same ideas about boys and girls with another indicator.  For example, a shift from pink and blue slips to yellow and green slips is not a meaningful adjustment if it’s just another way of visually separating students by gender.  A shift to white slips for all, with M / F / X indicators on them sort of defeats the purpose of refining the process or tools we use for class loading (though I can appreciate the acknowledgement that X is a valid and legally acknowledged gender identity).

I also struggle with asking young people for their pronouns (or making assumptions about what their pronouns are – despite a movement by some advocates and activists to encourage this).  There is a difference between creating the space for someone to share their pronouns and requesting that all students declare their pronouns.  Many people who are gender diverse or are questioning their identity find this causes a lot of anxiety until they have fully embraced their gender identity and have clarity about which pronouns they align with.  Again, this is a nuanced conversation that needs to be handled with sensitivity.  We definitely want to allow opportunities for gender diverse youth to explore their identities, but we want to avoid imposing identities on them.

In one school I was at, we shifted to placing our highest needs students first, building supportive communities around them, extending that community by building on existing friendships / relationships, evaluating needs (like language support, leadership, etc).  During this process, I thought we actually built pretty balanced classes – the balance of which was often undermined when they conversation shifted to “counting” the numbers of boys and girls (or some other arbitrary identifier like the number of ELL learners).  (I do say “boys and girls” to reflect the conversations I’ve witnessed and been a part of, even though it tends to exclude trans- and non-binary learners, but I’ve done it to simplify the conversation to a degree). Good questions to consider are: “If we build based on some of the priorities (as listed above), and then make adjustments based on gender, how do those refinements change the composition or balance of the sorting?  What impact does prioritizing the key needs and de-centering some of our conceptions about gender have on the classes we load?  Once we start shifting placements (i.e. moving one student from one placement to another), balance is rarely achieved by a one-to-one trade and often involves a complex shifting of groups of students. 

Having said that, I also don’t want to leave the impression that I’m arguing that gender is completely irrelevant to the conversation.  If our objective is to be “Gender Neutral” and to suggest that gender never matters, I find that problematic in the same way it’s problematic to say “we don’t see colour” when we talk about race.  My difficulty with the conversations around gender is that we when we tend to talk about the learning styles or needs of a particular gender, we often are referring to “all” learners of that gender (whether we intend to or not).  When we talk about individuals and we talk about the specific needs of a particular learner (which may or may not be related to their gender), it’s a different conversation and it’s situated in discussing specific conditions to support a specific learner.

One of the things to be surfaced in this conversation is, “are we talking about balance based on sex or based on gender?”  

      • Sex refers to physiological characteristics (chromosomes, hormones, body parts) 
      • Gender refers to people’s internal sense of themselves

If we are class loading on the basis of sex, then perhaps we should be labelling our post-its with genitalia. I say this with some degree of humour, but it is relevant to the conversation.  If we are loading based on gender, it’s difficult to determine what someone’s internal sense of themselves is, and we often rely on stereotypes of how girls and boys behave – and, in many cases. not questioning how we construct and perpetuate some of the stereotypes by the ways in which we perceive and reinforce gender roles.  I would extend the definition of gender to include the social construction of how we understand and perceive gender.  Often conversations about gender balance in schools is rooted in compliance and obedience, and perceptions of how each gender aligns with these concepts, when a more focused conversation about engaging teaching practices and strategies (and how to support them) might be more constructive.  There have certainly been shifts in the kinds of learning styles and learning behaviours we are viewing in our classrooms that are reflective of the experiences of young ones who enter our schools.  For example, experiences with and access to technology is shifting how we learn and what is deemed important.  It’s not harmful to continuously be questioning some of the assumptions or routines that are prevalent in our profession.

The other conversation that I think is really relevant to class loading is “What assumptions are we making about gender?  What assumptions or biases do we have about behaviour and performance based on those assumptions about gender?”  One of the ways that you can preface this conversation is to invite people to think about experiences they’ve had with a particular student who presented as an exception to the apparent norms of their gender.  What factors should be considered in their placement?  Should a student whose expressions or tendencies that defy typical preconceptions of their gender be considered differently than someone who affirms gender roles / tendencies?  

In much of the research literature that I’ve encountered about gender and learning, I happen to defy pretty much every generalization about how boys learn and what their literacy preferences are, and my friend, Susan, affirms pretty much every generalization about how boys learn and what their literacy preferences are.  I’m curious what consideration people who have gender non-conforming tendencies like these get in these conversations about balance.  It’s also interesting to note, that some of the literature on how brains differ by gender is being questioned as being biologically determined and is  being refined by understanding how malleable the brain is in responding and adapting to circumstances and conditions it responds to (which include some of the stereotypical ways in which boys or girls are treated, the toys they are gifted, the clothing they wear, the activities they are encouraged to engage in or avoid, and generally speaking the ways in which we continually reinforce conceptions of gender). 

If I had the capacity to, I’d encourage a spectrum from introvert to extrovert to categorize students for grouping because I think it often (but not always) is more reflective of the balance we are attempting to achieve than the supposed balance we achieve by counting the boys and girls. 

In an environment where the composition of students is approximately 50% boys and 50% girls, it is often relatively natural to build a classroom composition (by whatever process) that results in a reasonable balance of gender in designated classrooms.  However, regardless of whether we make adjustments based on our awareness of trans- and non-binary learners or for other reasons, there are some problems I’ve encountered when trying to balance gender.  One of the scenarios that I can recall created (what I considered) one of the worst outcomes for class loading for a small group of girls.   We had a particular year where we only had 12 grade 7 girls enrolled at our school.  We had a school configuration that included one Grade 7 class and 2 combined Grade 6/7 classes.  Ultimately, the decisions that unfolded resulted in 4 girls being placed in each class, because the perception was that that was the fairest way to distribute that particular group.  The four girls placed in my class had no pre-existing relationships / friendships with the other girls in the class. Other possibilities about grouping that particular group of girls were considered but rejected because “it wouldn’t be fair.” I could easily make the argument that that was based more on what teachers considered fair and equitable than what students would regard as fair or equitable. 

In building classes, it’s helpful to remember that we’re building classrooms with SIMILAR dynamics, and not classrooms with the SAME dynamics.  Even if we could create classrooms that had the ultimate balance of gender (or any other arbitrary factor), the other factor that we can’t necessarily balance is the teachers. Teachers come to classrooms with a range of experiences, interests, and skill sets, and it’s important to recognize that this contributes to the overall balance achieved when we load classes – despite the story that the numbers tell when we count up specific needs or identities of students we place.  I was in a situation for a number of years where I was quite comfortable with taking on students with behavioural concerns, while my grade partner was quite skillful with students with physical or cognitive issues, and so, in part, balance was achieved through recognizing those strengths and how they benefitted the classes we formed. 

So, ultimately, I don’t have the definitive answer to how to address gender when loading classes, but hopefully this provides some insights into some of the questions to consider when engaging in a process which can have a lot of emotional attachment to the best ways to do it and how to create ideal placements for the human beings we care deeply about. 

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Pondering Pronouns in Report Cards

There are lots of perspectives on how we honour student identity in report cards.  Recently, I was invited to respond to the following query:
In some reports, our teachers are using the term “they” to replace all pronouns for he/she (ex. “Mary showed proficiency in their reading comprehension this term”).

I am certainly not an expert on this, but I do understand that the preferred pronoun should be used for each child. However,  my understanding is “they/them” is also a choice pronoun and therefore should no longer be used as a neutral term when referring to a child? Is my understanding correct?

Does anyone have information to help clarify correct inclusive language for all? 

First, I would just like to amend some language use.  Within the question, there is a reference to “preferred” pronouns.  There has been a shift from the use of “preferred” to “personal” pronouns or just to pronouns with no qualifier.  Many people who use pronouns other than those that correspond with their sex assigned at birth, will assert that these aren’t simply the pronouns they prefer (implying there is a choice for people in how they refer to said person) and that they simply ARE the pronouns that describe them.  A helpful distinction to be more inclusive of gender diverse folks.
The best answer I can give to the question posed is “it depends.”  In some cases, districts may have some language on this in policy or procedure documents (even if it might not be specific to reporting).  I don’t believe there is a definitive answer on this.
I struggle a bit on using they for everyone because everyone’s pronouns should be respected.  Many educators are inviting students to indicate their pronouns, and if having done so, should be using the declared pronouns in their references to a child, including in their report.
To me there is a difference between being gender neutral and being gender expansive.  In gender neutrality, we essentially disregard gender and use the same words for everyone.  In gender expansivity, we recognize the diversity of gender and the ways in which it is expressed, including the pronouns that accurately describe people (typically through self-identification).
Having said that, I also notice that I’m developing the tendency to use “they’ when I am referring to someone to avoid misgendering them in a hurtful way.  It does tend to be more harmful to accidentally refer to “he” as “she” than to refer to “he” as “they” and I do tend to think that this is a direction that language is headed in.  In part, I believe that this is becoming the practice as we normalize pronouns.  It reminds me a bit of a period in time when the distinction between “Miss,” “Ms.,” and “Mrs.” was quite defined, and people were asserting which honourific they used, and eventually, it’s become quite common to refer to all female identifying women as “Ms.”
One of the things to also take into consideration is the possibility of outing a student.  In some cases, using “they” can create a situation where it accidentally and unintentionally outs a student – even in situations where students aren’t out or visible to the educators involved.  So, I do think that, if an educator is using “they/them” pronouns for all students, they need to have a clear rationale, and to articulate this clearly to students and their families.
With regard to the actual report writing process………..
My tendency when writing reports has always been to use the student name as the stem, and then qualify the performance.  I started doing it and drafting a bank of comments that didn’t have pronouns so that when I cut and pasted and used the same statement for multiple students, I didn’t have to edit to ensure that proper personal pronouns were used.  The ability to do this depends a bit on how the report form / platform is structured. (For clarification, this was something I was doing before I was involved in any kind of SOGI advocacy)
  • makes thoughtful contributions to classroom conversations
  • works productively and makes effective use of class time
  • completes assignments thoroughly, with a high degree of quality
  • continues to need reminders to avoid sarcasm in responses to others 😋
 In the comment provided in the example “Mary showed proficiency in their reading comprehension this term,” I would actually suggest adjusting it by simply removing the pronoun.  “Mary showed proficiency in reading comprehension this term.”  In this regard I have not used any language that contradicts what I know about Mary and I haven’t made any assumptions about their gender.   I’m also not using any pronouns that contradict how Mary has indicated how I should refer to Mary (i.e. if she uses she/her pronouns).
This eliminates a lot of potential problems by honouring the student, being gender expansive, and avoiding language that parents might question or take offense to.
This following comes from a resource that I encountered with some tips about using they/them as singular pronouns, but as indicated in the preamble, refers to students who actively use they/them pronouns.
Using “They” as a Singular Pronoun: Some tips for Report Writing

Students using “singular they” as their pronoun is becoming more common and while some are making this transition seamlessly, others can get tripped up over the grammar especially in writing. Practice is important, and some prefer to have concrete examples. Here are some great tips for using they and them for one person in writing, adapted from a presentation from Russ Lloyd in Prince George:

  1. If something doesn’t sound right to you, use their name or try to reword the sentence.
  2. Some problems can be solved by not starting a sentence with They, Them, or Theirs; use a qualifying sentence starter instead.  
  • “As a student, they…”
  • “During circle they…” 
  • “With peers they…”
  1. Many people find “they are” instead of “is” sounds odd for a single student – you can usually find a way to reword the sentence.  Ex:

X    They are getting better at self-regulation and following rules 
☑ We have seen an improvement in their self-regulation and ability to follow the rules

I hope that provides some insight to the question and some perspectives to consider in regard to how districts proceed with conversations about being gender inclusive in their language.

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The Performance of Pink

The Performance of Pink: Some Reflections on Pink T-Shirt Day

I always find it difficult to articulate my feelings around Pink T-Shirt Day, but this year I thought it was worth the effort.  Recently, I was involved in a seminar for Simon Fraser University Student Teachers in the Faculty of Education and someone posed the question: “How do you feel about days of recognition like Pink T-Shirt Day?”

If I’m being honest, I simultaneously hate them AND recognize the need for them.  I’m networked to other LGBTQ+ advocates and activists who find the day cringe-worthy, and, for many of us, the day approaches with frustration and trepidation.  Though well-intentioned, I struggle with the way that the day is often handled in schools. Lately, I have Lin-Manuel Miranda’s song from “Encanto” in my head, but I’ve replaced the lyrics, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno-no-no” with “We Don’t Talk About Homo-pho-bia.”

My frustration from days like Pink T-Shirt Day comes from the potentially performative aspect involved. I worked at a school that participated in a Pink T-Shirt Day flash mob event.  We rehearsed choreography to perform in the stands at a Vancouver Giants game (back when they hosted their games at The Coliseum).  The opportunity to be part of a flash mob is a powerful thing.  There is merit in the sense of community experienced as being part of a collective energy that is hard to capture in other contexts.

What I struggled with was the discrepancy between the number of hours invested in learning and practicing the dance in comparison to the amount of time spent developing understandings about the origins of the day or what we were attempting to communicate by participating.  Even the song selection became quite sanitized, focusing on the inspirational, but somewhat superficial, and failing to centre the music of queer artists who might have commentary on the kind of bullying the day is supposed to address.

I was a student in the elementary schools that I now work in.  I experienced the kind of bullying and harassment that Pink T-Shirt Day is a response to.  While we have taken strides to make progress, I’m consistently reminded of how misconceptions about gender expression and sexual orientation are still as pervasive as they were when I was a student.  I experienced homophobic harassment long before I understood or could articulate my own sexuality.  So, it wasn’t even necessarily about being gay.  It was about being perceived as being gay.  A lot of boys who demonstrate stereotypically feminine traits or feminine preferences often have their masculinity and their sexuality questioned.  These perceptions about their sexuality are often weaponized against them.  Decades later, I still have very vivid memories of some of those exchanges, and the feelings associated with them.  The incident in Nova Scotia in 2007, where a boy was subjected to homophobic taunts for wearing a pink shirt to school, prompting Travis Price and David Shepherd to take action is a fairly routine example of this.

We’ve all probably had those moments where we’ve felt guilt about interactions we’ve witnessed and lacked the courage to intervene.  Those teens took action and should be applauded, but I struggle with the Random Acts of Kindness narrative attached to Pink T-Shirt Day.  It wasn’t a random act.  It was a targeted and purposeful response with an objective.  It was a product of observing hurt and isolation that conflicted with their values and that they wanted to do something about.  It was a response to witnessing homophobic taunts and engaging in a peaceful and productive demonstration to combat that specific behaviour and to communicate a sense of “you are not alone” to the young boy who was targeted. When we don’t include that part of the narrative, and we separate the victim from the event, we potentially end up with just another “saviour” narrative.

There are many ways in which we continue to perpetuate the idea that it’s okay to hurt queer people.  You don’t have to look too far to find examples that include politicians and parents objecting to the presence of LGBTQ+ identities in books, faith-based opposition to banning conversion therapy, and the inordinate number of anti-trans bills being proposed or enacted south of our border.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed a shift in the conversation to celebrations of kindness.  I want to be clear that I’m NOT saying that conversations about kindness aren’t important.  I acknowledge that they are.  But, to celebrate a day which originates in responding to hurtful and homophobic behaviour without mentioning or exploring homophobia feels somewhat disingenuous, and it does feel like the day has been appropriated.  It’s a little like talking about finances without ever mentioning money.

We use words like “diversity” that dilute the conversation so it becomes a “sanitized” version of only the differences that don’t challenge or offend us.  I’m not intending to say we shouldn’t talk about diversity, but I am saying that there are occasions where we need to name and specify the diversities of which we speak.  What we choose not to name or speak about is as significant a part of curriculum as what we promote and celebrate.  Part of what we communicate when we choose not to address the homophobic origins of the day, has the potential (even if unintended) of saying that we don’t talk about the experiences of queer people, and we don’t promote their protection.

I reiterate that it’s not that we shouldn’t talk about kindness, or even that we shouldn’t put an emphasis on it.  My concern is that, when we limit the conversation to kindness, we leave a lot unresolved and unmentioned. We’ve witnessed a number of celebrities and public figures being held accountable for their words or actions (whether accused of being homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, misogynistic or otherwise).  What we’ve also observed is other celebrities and public figures coming forward to defend them, dismissing the accusations because said celebrity has always been kind to them, negating the victims’ stories because it wasn’t their experience (consequently, resulting in some pretty glaring examples of gaslighting).   It becomes a little problematic if we’re not having a more nuanced conversation about kindness, and the recognition that some people who are perceived to be kind are quite selective about who they are kind to.

I’m happy to encourage students to wear pink, but I struggle with pressuring them to do so, particularly without a deep and purposeful understanding of why they’re being asked to.  I get frustrated by schools that offer prizes for the class with the most pink t-shirts, because one demonstration of genuine support can be more meaningful than twenty four that lack understanding or conviction.  Heck, my niece would gladly wear a pink t-shirt every day.  I’d just appreciate that when she wore pink on this day, that she understood that it meant something more.  My hope it that she’ll understand that it is a way of saying “Hey, I recognize some of the pain people experience and I’m going to stand up for them so they don’t have to feel alone” or “I want people to know that I love my uncle and it’s not okay to say hurtful things to him or to people like him.”  That’s a message that many LGBTQ+ students and their families would love to hear that is not quite covered by “kindness” or by generic conversations about bullying.

It’s not my intention to suggest that we shouldn’t be combatting all forms of bullying.  We absolutely should, but I feel like the piece of the conversation that is often missing is how specific people are targeted and harassed for things that are aspects or perceived aspects of their identity.  When we acknowledge that targeting people by their sexual orientation (or perceived sexual orientation), by their disability, by their gender, by their race, by their socio-economic status, or any other aspect of their identity, we are dealing in the realm of values and that’s much more complicated to navigate than when we make our conversations generic.  Generalizing the origins of the day offers permission for many to avoid uncomfortable topics, while ignoring how uncomfortable it is for those who are subjected to chronic, targeted harassment.  And, while I understand that it is important to show compassion to the bullies and to address whatever is going on for them, it’s difficult to watch concerns about the well-being and outcomes for the bully prioritized over victims they targeted.

In the context of conversations about kindness, I’ve heard extensions about healing and uplifting others.  Ambitious and well-intentioned objectives, but it’s tough to heal from something when that trauma continues to be surfaced and we collectively decline to acknowledge or specify the things that cause the trauma (in this case, overt homophobic behaviour).  It’s like attempting to do Truth & Reconciliation, without addressing the Truth.

It’s not my intention to derail conversations and learning opportunities about kindness, but rather an attempt to encourage others to consider how they recognize this day and invite them to complement those conversations with extensions that deal with deeper understandings about how people who are targeted feel – particularly because they are often targeted for things they cannot control.  I encourage people to consider how they engage with this day to avoid powerful opportunities for advocacy, and opportunities to engage in genuine allyship, and, inadvertently, killing them with “kindness.”

I’ve included a link here to a lesson that I think is helpful for young students to better appreciate the origins of the day and the role that homophobia might play in how we perceive, react to, and treat others.  You can find the lesson at:

My hope in you having taken the time to read this, is that you extend the learning beyond Pink T-Shirt Day and beyond conversations about kindness.  One of the most powerful engagements about the origins of Pink T-Shirt Day that we had in a school I taught at was that we used the February date as a catalyst and The International Day of Pink (celebrated in the second week of April) to frame our explorations.  It allowed educators to make plans for developing understandings intermittently and over a number of weeks.  We recognized the learning with regard to homophobia, empathy, and understandings in an assembly in April to honour the International Day of Pink – a similarly themed day, but initiated by gay student, Jeremy Dias.  “After coming out in high school, Jeremy faced extreme cases of discrimination by students & school officials. At 17, he began a legal case against his school and school board, and at 21 won Canada’s second-largest human rights settlement. Jeremy used the money to found the Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity, the International Day of Pink and the Jeremy Dias Scholarship.” (

My hope is that we recognize that kindness and action do come from places of purpose and that recognizing harm and responding with empathy is important.  My hope is that we strive for allyship and advocacy that is genuine and respectful of the LGBTQ+ experiences and voices that endure the emotional labour that days like this attempt to acknowledge.  My hope is that we engage in meaningful exchanges that centre progress over performance, and that, ultimately, we avoid the performance of pink.

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Let it Go or Continue to Show?: How to Deal with Harmful Public Rhetoric

I was sent a letter from a group of concerned parents, teachers, educators, and other stakeholders.  It is timely in that It relates to some things that have been on my mind for a while lately.  Protests and counter-protests.  Information and misinformation.  Helpful or harmful public commentary.  Pro-SOGI / Anti-SOGI.

The entirety of the letter is shared below.  It is perhaps a fitting complement to an article I authored that appears in the Summer edition of Education Magazine, a Gender and Sexuality themed issue.

The letter is in response to Anti-SOGI speakers, touring around the province making claims that are harmful to LGBTQ+ youth.   There are claims using loaded words like “brain-washing” and indoctrination when talking about how Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) are being addressed in classrooms.  If you’ve had the opportunity to read some of my previous blog posts about SOGI, you’ll recognize that I’ve attempted to address some of the misinformation that has been spread about what SOGI is, and what it looks like in schools.  I’m an educator, and I find it disturbing that someone who is not involved in SOGI professional development opportunities or in implementing curriculum, is passing themselves off as having an expertise as to what is going on in schools. I find it problematic that one person, with a unique set of experiences, seems to declare to speak on behalf of an entire community. It saddens me that families are being subjected to false information that creates fear, and mistrust in communities.  I’m disappointed that not all people are approaching the information being received with a critical mind, and applying logic to evaluate the messages.  I have been confronted with ridiculous claims about what SOGI is and how it unfolds in schools, including that our entire objective is to make all kids gender fluid.  Absolutely not the truth.  What we do, as educators is make safe, inclusive spaces, so that students who have different experiences of gender are able to learn in an environment where they are not harassed, ridiculed or shamed for who they are, or for who the members of their families are.  At its core, that’s what SOGI is.

I am further saddened by the burden that we place on members of our communities that are already marginalized.  Trans and non-binary youth are some of our most marginalized, and perhaps the least understood members of our communities.  I continue to have difficulty understanding why we can’t make space and accommodate them, and why we routinely put them in positions where they have to justify and explain their experiences.  This is an unfair and unjustified emotional toll that we demand of them and their families.  Thankfully, I’ve met some trans youth and been amazed at the clarity they have with regard to their identities.  I’m further impressed with their ability to navigate a world that can be hostile and unaccepting, and to do so with agency, grace, humility, and the ability to advocate for themselves.  I’ve met with families of gender-creative, gender non-conforming, gender variant, transgender, or non-binary youth (depending on which vocabulary you apply).  You might be surprised how informed, thoughtful, articulate, and genuinely concerned these parents are, and the most important thing they want to know is that their child is going to be safe at school.  Similarly to the parent who wants to know that their child with anaphylaxis isn’t going to be deliberately exposed to an allergen, and the parent whose child may have mobility issues wants to know that their child will be able to navigate the school and its facilities.  Can we stop making parents of vulnerable youth do extra work to create safe spaces for their kids when we already know what needs to be done for these spaces to exist?  Addressing the unique needs of specific children isn’t endangering other kids in the ways that some people would like you to believe they are.

There has been a narrative perpetuated that Pro-SOGI advocates are “oppressing Freedom of Expression” of these self-proclaimed speakers.  It saddens me that the dialogue, which is typically phrased as “Freedom of Speech,” consistently revolves around whether or not people are free to communicate messages they’d like to disseminate, but the conversation rarely focusses around responsibilities they ought to have in exercising said freedoms.  As an advocate and an ally, I’m not sure how best to respond to these scenarios.  Do we show up and protest and allow the speakers to frame a false narrative about our intentions?  Do we sit passively at home to avoid giving them any attention, allowing them to deliver whatever message they want without any challenge?  It’s hard to know what to do, but I do think that this letter is a really good start.

And you may notice that my perspective is offered freely, with no expectation of donation, and no link to a Go Fund Me (or other revenue generating platform) page.

Here is the letter from concerned community members:


In response to anti-SOGI activist Jenn Smith’s presentation in Surrey tonight, called “The Erosion of Freedom: How transgender politics in school and society is undermining our freedom and harming women and children” (
The following letter was written in collaboration with parents, guardians, grandparents, & step-parents, of LGBTQ2+ kids, including teachers and educators.
We are the parents, step-parents, guardians, grand parents, teachers and educators of LGBTQ2+ kids. We juggle family life the same as everyone else. We help our kids with homework; chauffer them to their sports and activities; encourage them to chase their dreams; and wipe their tears when they’re hurt. We all want the best for our kids, and that’s what being a parent is all about.
What makes us different is that our children are under unrelenting public scrutiny, and their very existence continues to be questioned by anti-SOGI activist, Jenn Smith. Jenn Smith has taken it upon himself (Jenn uses male pronouns) to organize public speaking events, where he goes from one community to the next, sharing his presentation to the public. The content of his presentation is misinformation, debunked pseudo-science, conspiracy theories, and a few of his own personal life experiences. Those of us who have LGBTQ2+ children and families consider his presentation dangerous because it incites hate, targeted at our kids and our families.
Our position is not about Jenn’s “freedom of expression”.  It is about protecting the defenceless, vulnerable kids and youth being targeted and shamed. Jenn refuses to recognize that his presentations are hateful.
Please remember that this is about our kids, and their right to not be shamed and ridiculed for who they are. This is about our kids’ right to attend safe, inclusive schools where who they are is reflected within our education system. This is about our kids’ right to be confident and live happy, normal lives.
We don’t enjoy having to shield our kids from constant hateful rhetoric. We don’t enjoy having to publicly defend our kids, or debate their rights. We don’t enjoy our kids’ healthcare options being questioned or debated on social media. Nobody wants to constantly be on the defence because groups and individuals are relentlessly targeting our children. We would much rather spend our time doing regular things with our families and loved ones.
Statistically speaking, most of you reading this don’t or won’t have an LGBTQ2+ child.  That said, we welcome your allyship, and sincerely hope that you will stand up against the spread of any type of hate that targets minorities or marginalized groups of people.
We have a number of people willing to share stories that elaborate on LGBTQ+ experiences and identities. Here are their stories…
“Presentations that aim to challenge human rights are particularly damaging to LGBTQ2+ youth. As a high school teacher and GSA sponsor and ally, I can confirm that representation matters. SOGI has helped build a bridge between acceptance and celebration, and presentations that diminish these goals are harmful. Every second of every one of these hateful chats chips away at the safety our kids deserve. Hate should not be given a platform, and as adults, it is our duty to stand up for youth. We must continue building our bridge of love. Each new stone has immense power – building a foundation of support. In the distance, a rainbow of celebration lights the pathway for our kids. There may always be monsters underneath the bridge, but our light is too bright for them to surface. As fierce allies, we will always light the pathway of hope.”
 – K. F., teacher / educator
“I’ve known who I am since before I had the words to describe it. I have never been “confused”, even as a child. And yet I didn’t fully come out until recently, in my 30’s, because I didn’t want to face hate and discrimination. If SOGI123 had existed when I was in school, maybe I wouldn’t have been afraid to be myself because my peers would have been more understanding and accepting. Maybe I wouldn’t have self-harmed and considered suicide from a young age. Not being able to be your true self is a huge emotional weight for a child (or adult) to bear and since coming out that weight has been lifted. I only wish I could go back and lift it for my young self. SOGI123 doesn’t make kids LGBTQ+, it makes LGBTQ+ kids safer.”
 – Langley Resident, Anonymous
“I see the impact. I see the impact of those continuously fighting against the existence of the LGBTQ+ communities, against the science that confirms our individualities, against the safeguards and education that needs to happen for acceptance and self-worth to breed. As I work alongside foster parents, I see those youth who have been kicked out of their homes for not being who their parents wanted them to be, who have not found a safe place to exist within their own families, and whose whole lives have come crashing down due to the very nature of their beings. I see them in hospital beds after suicide attempts and I see their anguish as parents continue to deny them access to the assessments and guidance they desperately need through their journey. This must stop! The damage of those spreading misinformation and faulty beliefs is killing our young people. I hope for a day when acceptance and inclusivity reigns supreme!!
 – J. H., Foster Parent Support Counsellor
“I am writing this as the parent of a transgender youth. There are so many things in this big wide world that concern me but this specific topic burns my soul to the ground. Jenn Smith has a concerning amount of time on his hands to try and destroy the progress that the LGBTQ community is making, and specifically he is targeting transgender children and youth. Regardless of how Jenn identifies, he does not speak on behalf of parents, educators, medical professionals and least of all the youth and children he targets. This type of hate speech, misinformation and denial of factual evidence is causing harm to our children. It doesn’t get any more personal and not once have I questioned my “parental rights”. I advocate for my sons health and well being and this, “Erosion of freedom” tour that Jenn is doing WILL NOT support the well being of any transgender children/youth.”
 – Heather, parent from Langley
“We are the proud, loving parents of a transgender son. He began his social transition in grade 8. Fortunately for him, he attends an inclusive school that supports SOGI 123, and the teachers and staff have been nothing short of amazing! His friends were all immediately accepting of who he is, as was his entire family.
Our son is now in grade 12, preparing to graduate from high school. He has a steady girlfriend, and they’re both excited about university in the fall. Over the past 5 years, we’ve watched our son grow into a handsome, compassionate, intelligent, caring young man. We’re proud of him, for what he’s accomplished throughout his high school years. As parents, we all want our kids to do well at whatever they put their minds to, and to be sincerely happy. Despite all the odds against our son, he is one of the lucky ones.
Sadly, there is a person by the name of Jenn Smith, who trying to undo everything we have worked so hard to accomplish for our son. Jenn Smith has produced a presentation, entitled “The Erosion of Freedom: How transgender politics in school and society is undermining our freedom and harming women and children”, and he shares this publicly in communities around B.C. When we heard about this, we immediately looked into what was being shared. What we found out was shocking and disturbing. Much of his presentation is a deliberate attack on our son and his identity, which has put him at greater risk of emotional and physical abuse in our community. When someone purposefully sets out to spread harmful lies about trans kids with people in our community, and shares misinformation with our neighbours and parents of our son’s classmates, it is abusive, irresponsible, hateful, and cruel.
Make no mistake about it… this has nothing to do with an attack on “freedom of speech”, as Jenn is trying to portray. Jenn is not the victim, but rather the abuser. Jenn is nothing more than an adult bully, who’s chosen to target kids like ours, and families like ours. My sincere plea is that anyone who reads our story will chose to not attend any type of event that is designed to spread hate. Families like ours simply want to live normal lives, the same as everyone else. People like Jenn Smith make that impossible.”
 – Loving, proud parents of our transgender son – Anonymous from Fort Langley
“The transition between elementary and secondary school is never easy, but without a supportive environment and staff who adhere to SOGI best practices, high school is torture for the gender nonconforming. For a transgender or nonbinary youth, it can be fraught with intense bullying by both students and staff affected by the intolerant rhetoric of Jenn Smith and his group of uninformed hatemongers. My child went from a happy, conscientious, “A” student in Grade 7 to an extremely isolated, bullied, and suicidal shell of a human being in a matter of a few months because of narrow-minded prejudice. Imagine what it is like to see your child endure hatred from strangers, from teachers who openly mock LGBTQ+ students, and staff who show disdain from anything slightly outside of their heteronormative environment. Just try to picture how challenging it is to be confronted by those who would rather you didn’t exist, no matter what the cost to society. It is extremely painful to watch my child suffer from the result of anti-LGBTQ+ hatred. I sincerely wish Jenn Smith et al could see how their views differ so drastically from the fundamental Golden Rule of Christianity.”
 – Langley Parent, Anonymous
“I’d love to say that people like Jenn Smith have no impact on how I live my life, or more specifically how my grandson lives his life, but I’d be lying. People that hold the paradigm that Jenn Smith holds make life infinitely more dangerous for my grandson and ultimately exceptionally stressful for me, his grandmother. Our names will be changed obviously for safety reasons.
My grandson Kody came out to us as a family in 2011, as transgender. When he disclosed, all the round pegs dropped into the round holes and all the square pegs dropped into the square holes. We worried about his safety then because he was so young, just 14 and quite petite and feminine looking. His transition was remarkable and since then he has had two surgeries and has been on testosterone, has a beard and his voice is quite deep, definitely masculine sounding.
However, he is still short and not very muscled as some other young men are. His anxiety disorder often bullies him into not venturing far from home, in fact he seldom ever goes out in public without a family member accompanying him, for obvious reasons of safety. There are certain areas in our city that he avoids like the plague, it is just too dangerous. Among his peer group, of whom the greater majority have accepted him as just one of the guys, there is one in the group however that has made life dangerous for my grandson and of course this friend happens to be Christian, the same sort of Christian that Jenn spends a lot of time having ‘info-sessions’ at their churches.
When he wants to hang with his friends, I drive him to the destination. He seldom ever takes the bus, it just isn’t safe for him to do so, at least not without a group of friends along for the ride. Subsequently I drive him everywhere and I pick him up as well. I don’t drink ever because I never know when I may need to rush to get him from a potentially dangerous situation. In order to keep him safe from people like Jenn Smith and some ‘red-neck’ bullies that could potentially harm him, I remain sober and vigilant, make sure to always have gas in the tank and am prepared to be called at any moment to rush off to collect him. Consequently, his friends’ group is small and unfortunately not all of them live nearby, so I tend to spend a bit of time travelling. I don’t mind though, at least he gets to hang out with his friends now and again. Sometimes they come to visit him at our home, which I prefer as it allows me some stress relief in not having to worry if he’s going to be accosted by some bully while out with friends.
We shouldn’t have to live this way, but because of people that hold a narrow paradigm on how young men like my grandson ‘should’ live their lives or simply not exist, life will be what it is, immensely stressful. In essence, we are bullied continually without even a word being uttered as the paradigm is set by those like Jenn Smith that fuel the fires of hatred and intolerance against anyone that isn’t cis gendered or straight, the only ‘normal’ they can accept.”
 – Phoebe Kenny, Grandmother to Kody Kenny.
“I am a parent of a high schooler who also happens to be transgender, I am former Chair of the PAC, and a working professional. We are fortunate to be in VSB which supports SOGI.  Because of SOGI our school has some of the lowest incidents of bullying, We also have a large and diverse school population from all religions, but predominantly Christian. SOGI reflects the modern world we live in of various versions of family. Jenn Smith does not represent the Transgender community. Kids are not born, homophobic or racist, they are ‘taught’ these views by adults and SOGI is about respecting each others differences and promoting kindness so kids like mine and in fact ALL kids can feel safe at school. My son is just a boy growing up with the same challenges and interests as other kids, worrying about grades, getting homework done, spending time with friends, doing his part time job.  Language that is included in SOGI allows him to just be who he is without fear.  Our kids are the future, education is key to that and it’s time we moved forward in welcoming all variations of families and people. The damage Jenn Smith is doing by fighting SOGI in schools is putting ALL kids at risk, not just LGBTQ communities.  Lets not go back to the 1950’s.”
 – E.G. from Vancouver
“I am a practicing Catholic with children that grew up in the Catholic school system ….. I believe that, although my children had an outstanding education with teachers that truly cared for them and their well being, if my trans child had been able to be herself she could have flourished.  She currently is struggling unnecessarily, I have a parish priest that is inclusive of her, her family and friends have shown nothing but love and support, but, I believe, her needing to hide herself in such formative years has led her to believe that a part of her is “wrong”.  Years of these damaging stories going through her head have created a mind-set of fear and unworthiness, no matter how much love and support she is surrounded with now.    People like Jenn Smith feed off of drama, using false narratives to push their agendas of hatred and fear – and our kids are the collateral damage. I would rather be home, being a mom, doing my thing and allowing others to do theirs, but, if I have to protect my children from hatred and danger, then I’ll keep writing, and showing up.  It’s my job – I take it very seriously!
 – R.F., Vancouver
“The moment I discovered I was going to deliver a baby girl my heart just melted. Ever since I was a young girl I had always longed for a daughter of my own. A girl after my own heart, someone to share secrets with, someone to go shopping with, discuss boys… someone who would understand the inner beings of being a female and share that special connection with me. The tears of joy I cried when the doctor announced “It’s a girl!” after an arduous labour washed over me with pride and satisfaction. My dream was now complete.
Years later I would come to learn that my baby girl, the one I dressed in pink and frills was not a female although “she” had been born with the physical traits of the XX gender. My daughter would painfully announce to me that she was actually a “he” and that he despised the body he had been born into. Right there and then my dreams of having a daughter were shattered. So, to quell my sadness, I told myself that this was just a phase and perhaps my “daughter” would come back. I longed for her to come back! However, she was never coming back. In fact, she had never actually existed. It took a lot of soul searching to wrap my head around this whole idea but eventually I came out on the other end of this with one thing in mind… All I really knew about gender was based on genitalia…not a person’s mind nor their sense of identity. The thought that people could be that complex? Why, yes! Yes, as human beings we are ever complex and dynamic individuals with different likes and dislikes. We are different ethnicities, different religious/spiritual belief systems, different abilities….DIFFERENT! No two people are the same. And honestly, why couldn’t it be possible that someone could be born into the wrong body? I think it’s very possible! I have also learned that I do not own the knowledge of what is considered “normal”. As far as I am concerned there is no quote on quote “normal”. Normal is whatever you make your mind up to be.
It is distressing for someone like Jenn Smith to present information to groups of naïve individuals who may not have had much education or awareness brought to them about the fact that MANY transgender individuals DO live amongst us. Being transgender and coming out as trans at a young age should be made to be OK! Unfortunately, a lot of people who are trans live in silence because of people like Jenn Smith who keep them hiding in their “closet”.  Informing people that they are not ok, that they are unstable and that they have no place in this world. I question why Jenn does this, especially as Jenn is someone who identifies as transgender themselves. Would they not know any better? Otherwise I would have to question THEIR transgender expression.
It took me some time to understand that I never had a daughter but to also understand where it was that my son was coming from. Even though my “daughter” was “gone” I still have a child who needs me to be there for him and to support him with all that I have. Protect him from the “monsters” of society who think he is a disposable human being. He is not. He is my son and I am PROUD of him! Please stop and consider the ramifications of telling these youth that they are not ok and that they are disturbed individuals. No one should have hear about another trans child committing suicide or being bullied in their schools. No more children should have to suffer because an adult could not find it within themselves to expand their understanding and embrace these children who need our love and support.”
 – Proud Mother of her transgender son


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Harnessing the Power of Remembrance: Creating Space for Understanding

Last year, I was aware of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which occurs annually on November 20th, but I knew that I wasn’t going to be in my classroom on that day, because I was in my district role instead.  I was a bit resigned to the missed opportunity to acknowledge it until a few days afterward.  As I was walking down the hallway to my classroom, it occurred to me that bulletin boards still featured Remembrance Day poppies, poetry on Remembrance, reflections on peace, and commentary on “Why We Remember.”  Those conditions actually provided the ideal context to have a conversation about the Trans Day of Remembrance in my Grade 6/7 classroom.

In my classroom, I adjusted the schedule and created space to have a conversation. The conversation was initiated by prompts on the board:

What is the purpose of Remembrance?

What are examples of things (occasions or events) we choose to remember or acknowledge?

Why are these things worthy of Remembrance?

Students had a pretty good understanding of the importance of Remembrance Day and the conversation started off with replies like:

The purpose of Remembrance is:

  • To show respect for people who suffered
  • To give thanks for people who made sacrifices
  • To acknowledge the progress we’ve made
  • To celebrate achievement we’ve accomplished
  • To avoid making the same mistakes we’ve made throughout history
  • To learn about the things we benefitted from but that we didn’t experience ourselves

We then began to generate a list of things we remember or acknowledge.

The first suggestion someone made was their birthday, so we had a brief conversation about the importance of birthdays, and how we recognize and celebrate them on an annual basis.  That conversation expanded to anniversaries.  Initially, students spoke about things like their parents’ wedding anniversaries and then we moved towards annual events or remembrances that were acknowledged more universally.  We talked more about Remembrance Day and the significance of it.  We talked about the historical significance of “on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.’  We reiterated the importance of the observance of a “Moment of Silence” and reflecting on the loss of lives. We talked about Orange Shirt Day / Every Child Matters and the importance of Truth and Reconciliation, which included some conversation about Residential Schools and recognizing the impact colonization had on Indigenous populations.  Students made a connection to Japanese Internment, and we had some conversation about how Japanese-Canadians were treated during that time, how important it was to acknowledge how unfair some of the practices were, and how we avoid doing the same thing to an arbitrary group of people in the future.  This included a conversation about Human Rights and laws that are intended to protect people from injustice.  We talked about the Terry Fox Run and how we acknowledge Terry’s achievements, and the contribution he’s made to Cancer Awareness and Treatment.  We elaborated on how cancer treatment has evolved and improved because of the funds raised annually.  We also acknowledged that we’ve learned things from people who passed away, who weren’t able to benefit from the lessons we’ve learned about cancer and how to combat it. We talked about Pink Shirt Day and the International Day of Pink, and how we attempt to address bullying by drawing attention to homophobia and the role it often plays in bullying.  I saw this as an ideal opportunity to ask students if they had been aware of another “Day of Remembrance” that had just passed.  No one indicated any knowledge of “The Trans Day of Remembrance” acknowledged on November 20, or that a ceremony might have been held in their community.  Consequently, someone mentioned that they thought they might have heard something about that on the news.

We had a brief conversation about the definition of transgender.  Most students were already familiar with the term and had a pretty solid understanding of it.   I asked if anyone might know why there was a Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Someone suggested it might be to acknowledge their “coming out” and another student articulated that a day of remembrance usually meant someone died.  This lead to a conversation about:

  • prejudice or discrimination towards transgender people
  • confusion and fear over what it means for people to be trans
  • clarification of the definitions of “transgender” and “cisgender” (cisgender was a relatively new, and fascinating term for students, which enhanced their understanding of the term transgender)
  • violence directed at trans people
  • suicides of trans people who lacked support or acceptance
  • responses to crimes directed at trans people (or the lack of response) – including assaults / murders

We talked about how a typical ceremony or observance might involve the reading of the names of trans people who lost their lives over the course of the year. (One student pointed out that it was similar to the “In Memorium” portion of the Oscars – I was surprised that a 6thgrader watched the Oscars).  Someone else commented that it was like when they showed series of pictures of unarmed, black men that were killed in incidents involving police and made a connection to the Black Lives Matter movement.

We wrapped up the conversation with some suggestions about creating safe spaces for others and, specifically, for people who identify as transgender or non-binary. This included concepts of being an ally, the availability of universal washrooms, providing education, empathy, and the concept of acceptance.

Overall, a powerful and productive conversation that allowed them to make connections to many important learning opportunities they’d been exposed to in classrooms, at home, and in the media, over the course of their young lives.

Some resources to provide some context for the conversation:

CBC News Article: Day of Remembrance a time to Reflect on Anti-Transgender Violence (Nov 20)

Information about Transgender Awareness Week (Nov 12 -19) GLAAD


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The Age of Appropriate

So, much has been made about SOGI and whether or not primary children should be exposed to these topics.  There have been some gross exaggerations of what is covered in kindergarten and early primary classes, and some obvious misrepresentations of what the intent of SOGI is.  Some alarmists and extremists have claimed that the intention of SOGI, particularly the Gender Identity aspect is to make ALL students gender fluid.  I honestly can’t even imagine the methodology that would be required to achieve that objective – an objective that is ludicrous to anyone who works in any capacity with children.  What we are trying to do is to help students comprehend that some people may have a different experience with gender and that it’s important to demonstrate understanding and kindness to people who are different.

You’ll hear Anti-SOGI extremists making accusations of indoctrination.  Again, these kinds of claims are simply hyberbole, and have no merit.   I can’t get all kids to put their names on their papers when they hand them in or to walk down the hallway without talking. Those are things I’ve actively been trying to “indoctrinate” them with for my entire career.  They’ve heard these instructions on a near daily basis in every classroom in every year of their school experience.  If I can’t get them to follow those simple instructions, it’s hardly likely that I’m going to influence their sexual orientation or their gender identity by sharing a book that features depictions of LGBTQ+ characters or experiences.  I spent a lifetime being educated using books and films that featured heterosexual characters and heterosexual experiences – even my parents are heterosexual – and none of that “indoctrination” made me heterosexual.

When we talk about what is or isn’t appropriate for young children, I’m always amazed at how many primary school-aged children are familiar with the story of Noah’s Ark.  I remember this story and can even recall cheerful lyrics about songs celebrating the story of Noah’s Ark from when I attended Sunday school as a youngster.  I’m further surprised at how baby nurseries are saturated with cute images of animals marching onto the Ark.  What surprises me with regard to all of this is that, at its core, Noah’s Ark is about the genocide of a planet full of people. Imagine for a moment the suffering of all those drowning victims. Imagine the bloated bodies floating as the Ark bobs peacefully among the accumulating bodies. I also remember pretty clearly the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” and the punishment in this story, for failing to obey, or for failing to demonstrate one’s absolute faith in a higher being is death.  So, is Noah’s Ark the adorable story of a god preserving all the animal species of the world or is it something much more sinister?

Now, I recognize that this is a very adult interpretation of the story, and it’s the interpretation of someone who feels alienated from faith communities.  But it is an argument that could be made with some sincerity, and could easily be supported with logical evidence.  So, if you’re going to accept some of the sinister interpretations made by Anti-SOGI extremists who base their objections to SOGI on religious scripture, it might be time to re-examine some of one’s core understandings about faith and the way that it communicates its foundational principles.  If you would prefer to disregard what I’ve asserted and rely on the integrity of the members of your faith community, by all means, you have that privilege.

I just ask that you extend the same courtesy to the community of professionals who are teachers, and if you want to sincerely understand what SOGI is and how it is actualized in classrooms, ask the teachers.

The following is an example which I share with teachers about how to create space and provide representation for gender non-conforming or gender creative students in classrooms.

You are welcome to view the complete lesson (which I’ve described more as a conversation than a lesson) with the relevant big ideas and curricular competencies from the B.C. Curriculum at:

I was invited into a school where a young trans student was making a social transition.  The student had entered Kindergarten with a “boy” name and a “boy” identity, having been assigned “male” at birth.  There had been some gender expression during kindergarten that did not conform to traditional, stereotypical gender expression.  The student was then entering Grade 1, with a “female” name and a “female” identity.  To clarify, a social transition does not involve medical intervention and might be seen as simply allowing for gender non-conforming or gender creative expression.

My intentions in taking the following approach were to develop the following understandings:

  • A person’s appearance can change.
    • Sometimes the change is subtle or superficial
    • Sometimes the change is more profound
  • People are entitled to be called by the name they identify with
    • When people identify the name they want to be called, it is respectful to use it
  • How to be a good friend

I started by introducing myself and asking if students had seen me around the school.  I talked about how sometimes when they see me I might look different.  I asked them to brainstorm ways they might notice that I looked different.  Suggestions that were generated were wearing a hat one day, wearing different shoes, getting a haircut, etc.

Some possible differences:

  • Wearing different clothing
  • Changing hair styles
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Having a visible injury (wearing a cast, or bandage, or having a bruise)
  • Getting sunburnt
  • Differences in beard (clean shaven, stubble, trimmed beard, fuller beard)

I talked about how sometimes they might see me and one day I might have a full beard.  On other days, I would have no beard.  And on other days I might have something somewhere in between.  I elaborated on how sometimes when I’ve had a beard for a while, it gets kind of fuzzy, and when I shave it off, people don’t always recognize me because I look different, but they are always able to recognize that I’m still the same person in the end.

Understanding: regardless of the physical appearance, I am still the same person.

I then spoke to students about my name.  I had been introduced as Mr. Gidinski, and I explained to them that most people call me Mr. G.  I also shared with them that my friends call me Bryan.  I used this to illustrate that I have 3 names, and that names are important.  I asked them how they would know what they should call me, to which they responded, “we could just ask you what you wanted us to call you.”  We all want to be addressed by the name that is most comfortable.  Kids gave examples of how they had two names.  Someone shared their first name and then their middle name.  Another shared that his name was Benjamin but he preferred to be called Ben.  The young trans student identified that she had used a different name last year.   In each scenario, students were asked how to determine which name to call someone, to which the simple answer was “we call someone the name they ask us to call them.”

Reasons someone might have more than one name:

  • a new immigrant who changed their name
  • has a first name, middle name(s), and a last name
  • has a nickname
  • gets referred to by their last name
  • changes name to match their spouse

Understanding: When someone shares their name, it is respectful for us to use the name they ask us to use.

We talked about how to be a good friend and talked about things that good friends do (sharing, playing together, talking to each other, being silly together, etc).  Then, I shared the book, Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender and Friendship by Jessica Walton.  The story touches on names, a character’s appearance, and friendships.  I paused periodically to ask questions to clarify their understandings and emphasize how the activities at the end mirror the activities at the beginning of the story.

Understanding: We can be a good friend by sharing, by including others when we play, by being kind, by helping out when someone feels bad.

The story can be deconstructed on a number of levels of sophistication depending on the developmental level of students, and on topics relevant to the social dynamics in the classroom, but the key understandings developed here were 1) that appearances can change, but a person is still the same person on the inside, 2) we should call people by the names they want to be identified by, and 3) there are lots of ways to be a good friend.  The aforementioned list of understandings are all age appropriate concepts and ideas for Kindergarten and Grade 1 students.

In more advanced classrooms, it can be a springboard for conversations about:

1) Non-binary understandings of gender.

2) Deconstructing stereotypical gender roles:  Errol plays with his Teddy, hosts tea parties.  Ava rides a scooter, and builds a robot.

When looking to understand what is going on in classrooms, it is really helpful to connect with teachers.  There are many voices who are trying to define for you what classroom practice is without ever having stepped into a classroom as an educator.  Teachers are the ones implementing curriculum, and making judgements about the resources and methodology that they use.  These decisions are influenced by the composition of their classrooms, the social dynamics within the classroom, the maturity of their students, and the connections that they make to the curriculum.  And despite the hateful rhetoric you may have been hearing and the fear-mongering that has gone on with regard to SOGI, I think many of you know and understand that the vast majority of teachers have your child’s best interests at heart.  So, if you continue to have concerns about what your child is being taught in their classroom, take the time to have a thoughtful, respectful conversation with your child’s teacher(s).  Try to avoid charging in and demanding that your child be removed from the classroom when any mention of SOGI occurs.  You might just be asking to excuse your child from learning to read, from studying social studies, or from investigating science.  You’d be surprised how quickly your fears about SOGI can evaporate if you actually listen to the people who are tasked with covering this content.



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Dear Families…. Can we talk about inclusive language?

I’m hoping that the way I’ve addressed this post hasn’t caused shock and awe.  According to some of the inaccurate statements being circulated about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), you should be offended that I didn’t address you as “mom” or “dad,” or “ladies” and “gentlemen,” and you should assume it’s because the words “mom,” and “dad,” “ladies,” and “gentlemen,” “boys” and “girls,” are all banned.  You should assume that my intent is to devalue you, and eliminate your influence over your children.  Please do not be lured to such ridiculous conclusions.

In the context of SOGI conversations, using an address like “Dear Families” instead of “Dear Moms and Dads” or “Dear Parents” has become a contentious issue.  I’ve been teaching for 22 years and I started using “Dear Families” long before SOGI policy was enacted or SOGI was part of the provincial curriculum.  I prefer it to “Dear Parents / Guardians.”  I didn’t make this adjustment because policy demanded it or because someone told me I couldn’t use the words “mom,” “dad,” or “parent.”  I did this because it reflected the unique situations that students go home to on a daily basis. To suggest that all kids have a mother and a father is willfully ignorant of the daily lives of a lot of children.  Granted, at conception, the contribution of genetic material from a biological mother and from a biological father may be necessary, it is not true that all those “donors” play an active role in their children’s lives afterwards.

Some Anti-SOGI extremists are claiming that by opting for inclusive language (like “families” instead of “parents”) that educators are somehow trying to undermine the status of parents, interfere with their parental rights, and ban the words “mom” and “dad.”  There is no such ban and there is no such objective.   We recognize how important parents are as partners.  I can tell you right now that I don’t have the time to go through every book in the library and replace the words “mom,” “dad.” I’m not even sure there’s enough white-out for the task – and besides, my mom and dad taught me to respect and appreciate books.   See what I did there?  I used “mom,” and “dad” – in the same sentence no less.  I haven’t been struck by lightning, I haven’t had my credentials stripped, I haven’t been disciplined by my union.

I have no interest in eliminating or devaluing words like “mom” or “dad” from our vocabulary.  Moms and dads are amazing beings.  I am fortunate to have both my mother and father in my life.  I also happen to have their acceptance, love and support.  They’ve played valuable roles in the person I’ve become, and their identities as my parents are non-negotiable.  I have no intention of revoking “Mom” or “Dad” from either of their lists of achievements.

Recently, each of my siblings became parents for the first time. Watching my sister nurture and interact with my niece is magical.  Having a child in her life has so obviously enhanced her sense of purpose and her sense of being – as well as her ability to function under sleep deprivation conditions. Hearing her daughter first articulate the words “mum,” “mama,” or “mom” has been an affirming emotional experience. None of educators’ efforts to create inclusive, welcoming spaces for students is an attempt to erase or undermine the role of any mother.  I’d be the first to resist if anyone attempted to steal this title from my sister, from my mom, or from any other person who, under whatever circumstances, assumed the role of mother.

Similarly with my brother, his connection to his son, and the pride he takes in watching the development of this little person in his life is undeniable.  His new role has enhanced his life and has transformed his identity in a powerful way. The pride both my siblings display in becoming parents and assuming each of their roles as “Mom” or “Dad” is something that will always deserve recognition.  The terms “Mom” and “Dad” are not in danger of extinction.

For the record, becoming an uncle has been a privilege and is a new and important aspect of my identity.  Hearing these little human beings refer to me as Uncle, might just melt my heart a little – even if I’m reluctant to admit it at times.  Uncle is a title I’m more than happy to own.  There is something irresistible about having “Uncle” attached to your name, regardless of how they butcher the pronunciation of the title or of my name.  Uncle is another word that is not in danger of being extinguished.  Interestingly enough, if a notice came home from either my niece or nephew’s schools, inviting “families” to come to a performance or open house, I’d feel like I could attend.  If the notice was addressed to “Moms” and “Dads,” I would feel like I wasn’t welcome, and that their grandparents were excluded from engaging with their grandchildren at a school event.  What kid’s life isn’t enriched by the presence of a whole bunch of people who love and support them, and show up for them?

When I address the collective of a class, I try to be inclusive of all the incarnations of family that may exist (i.e. “Share your brainstorm with your family,” “Are there any adults at home that might be able to volunteer for our fieldtrip?”).  When I speak to an individual child, I use the terms that are appropriate for their specific context (i.e. “Did you show your notice to your mom?”  “Are your grandparents coming to pick you up?”  “Do your dads know about the early dismissal on Friday?”).  When I address the collective, I try to use inclusive language.  I try to avoid making assumptions about the people I’m talking about, and I try to avoid leaving someone out.  When I address the individual, I use the language and terms that are specific to their situation.

Here’s an example of avoiding making assumptions: I go to a party. I engage in conversation with a colleague.  Someone I wouldn’t necessarily call a friend.  Maybe more of an acquaintance. I don’t encounter them frequently outside of work and can’t say that I know a lot of details about their life.   I’m curious if they came alone or whether they are attached to someone.  If I ask “is your husband here?,” I’ve made an assumption about that person’s sexual orientation and that the person is married.  If I adjust the question to “Are you here with your spouse?,” now I’m being more sensitive and providing the opportunity for that person to self-identify their sexual orientation, but I’m still making the assumption they’re married.  If I ask “Did you come with someone tonight?,” I’m not making any assumptions. The answer might very well be “no.” The answer might be, “My friend, Gus, came with me.”  If that person points to someone on the opposite side of the room and says “See that person over there in the grey sweater…that’s my wife,” then I know that when I refer to that person’s partner it’s clear that the appropriate word to use is “wife.”

Imagine going to a meal at a restaurant with a large group of friends.  You all order different items from the menu.  One person orders steak. One orders pasta. Another orders pizza.  Someone opts for chicken.  Someone else asks for lamb. One person orders a salad.  Someone else gets a burger.  Someone orders a stir fry.  One person orders salmon.  Someone else has fish and chips.  Someone else has lobster.  One person orders only from the appetizer menu.  One is a vegetarian.  Their partner is a vegan.  One has allergies to peanuts.  One is gluten free.  One wants their salad dressing on the side.  And two want to make substitutions.  This is obviously a diverse dining group with a complicated order.

At the end of the evening, you’re curious how everyone’s experience was. You’re the one who coordinated the evening and you’re hopeful everyone’s had a good experience.  You consider asking “how were your fish and meat?” Most people had some form of fish or meat, but will everybody be included in your invitation to evaluate the experience?  You figure that covers most of the party.  You have made some assumptions about some of the menu items.  It’s not abnormal for pasta, or even salad, to include a meat, or seafood option.  You realize that “seafood” might be a better word to choose, because it would include fish, salmon, lobster, and the shrimp in your friend’s stir fry.  You realize that more of the guests will be included if you ask “how was your meat or seafood?”  You scan the table, considering the guests, wondering if anyone will be left out if you ask “how was your seafood or meat?”

You pause at the vegetarian and the vegan.  You ask yourself, “How do I include everyone? This is ‘nuts.’”  You catch the eye of your friend who you hope is carrying their Epipen, because you know they’re anaphylactic.  You scroll through vocabulary in your brain seeking the right words.  You consider “how was your entrée?”  That seems pretty inclusive, until you realize that your partner only ordered from the appetizer menu.  They are attentive to detail.  Will they feel like they can contribute a response if their appetizer was served with everyone else’s entrée, but, technically, is still categorized as an appetizer and not an entrée?  You do not want to risk the them feeling undervalued or excluded.

The server comes by to deliver the bills.  Placing the bill on the table, the server addresses the collective and asks “How were your meals?”  A simple, inclusive question that anyone at the table can answer.  After several nods and responses, the serve asks individual questions, specific to people’s orders.  “Was the steak done to your liking?  The chicken was amazing, wasn’t it?  The wild salmon really makes that meal, don’t you think?”

That’s how inclusive language works.  It might take a little training and awareness.  It might take a little practice.  It’s not about being politically correct.  It’s about being kind.  It’s about being respectful.  It’s about creating situations where people are not “othered” in some way.  It’s about creating situations where everyone is welcome.

Call it SOGI.  Call it fostering appreciation for differences.  Call it encouraging acceptance.  All teachers are attempting to do is to make safe, comfortable spaces where kids can be kids.  Where they feel included, and appreciated by the communities in which they exist. They are encouraged to be visible and authentic, and to develop pride in who they are.  That’s how kids develop into exceptional beings – when they have the environments that allow them to learn without fear or shame.

“That’s all.” – Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada.

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False Narratives: How LLTT uses SOGI 123 as TNT

If she were elected, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson would be required to work with teachers like me. (Questionable OPINION on SOGI).  I’m not going to lie…this is NOT something I would look forward to.  My primary issue is that valuable time and resources would have to be invested in responding to false narratives that she promotes.  She clearly has many misconceptions about how education works – and about SOGI.

Her attack on the resources of SOGI 123 continue to be ridiculous and her political platform and public identity is based on a misrepresentation of truth.  She takes “nuggets” from lesson plans, resources, and videos and sensationalizes them with ominous exaggerations.  What she claims with regard to the intent behind them, and how the materials are used might be analogous to me suggesting that, because the Bible mentions slavery, the intent of all Christians is to teach young kids to recruit slaves.  The mere mention of a group of people, and clarity around what their experience might entail is not indoctrination.  We don’t try to teach children to be gender fluid, but we do try to ensure that students who identify in that manner feel safe in their classrooms.

Thompson is under the impression that that when we talk to students about gender as a spectrum, we are attempting to make ALL students gender fluid.  The vast majority of students will identify as male or female and no one is interfering with that aspect of their identity.  SOGI inclusive education is simply about asking students to recognize that SOME people have a different experience of gender that is not adequately understood within binary restrictions.

Teachers make decisions about resources that are relevant and meaningful to our learning objectives (as defined by the curriculum).  We adapt and design lessons to be engaging and informative.  We are responsive to the dynamics of our classroom, and because those dynamics are so unique to each classroom, we rarely follow any lesson plan exactly as written.  So, to take quotes from a suggested plan, and suggest that all teachers are teaching it exactly as drafted is, at best, misleading, at worst, willfully ignorant.

There are certainly lots of recommended resources and lessons plans available to choose from for ANY subject area.  There is such a wealth of resources available, that, even if we endeavoured to, we wouldn’t be able to use them all.  The fact that 14 books that feature transgender characters exist or are recommended does not mean that those 14 books are going to be used in the classroom. It simply means that teachers have choices.  It allows for teachers to think critically about the materials and select texts that are developmentally appropriate and connected to themes they are developing in their classrooms.  These books are often used among a multitude of other books.  Resource selection and use is informed by experience gained in practicums, methodology courses, seminars, professional development opportunities, and building relationships with our students.  Our choices are informed by the needs of our students, some of whom identify as trans.

Thompson taking issue with the number of books available is a little like claiming a 10 000 volume library collection insists that patrons become paleontologists because Thompson found 100 books about dinosaurs.  Or claiming that grocery stores are force-feeding green beans to their customers because there is a display of them in the produce aisle.

Interestingly, Thompson will promote the perspective of one doctor who engaged in a study (that has since undergone some additional scrutiny from peer reviewers since it was initially circulated) and claim it as the definitive understanding about trans identities.  She neglects to include all of the other perspectives of doctors and researchers whose work represents other findings.  Take some time to Investigate the differences between the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Pediatricians.  Thompson’s material comes primarily from one group, ignoring that one is considered the authority on pediatric issues, and the other is regarded as a politically-minded Anti-LGBTQ+ group. Her selection and promotion of resources appears to undergo less scrutiny than the ones used in classrooms, something I consider irresponsible when one is making public claims about complex topics, and claiming to be an expert on things that negate the lived experiences of others, and ignore the professional perspectives of health providers. When it comes to what resources and how they are being used in classrooms, I’m going to defer to the judgement of the trained professionals that step into classrooms to do the challenging work of educating children.

I continue to encourage anyone who wants a rational understanding of what SOGI is and how it is actualized in a classroom to talk to their child’s teacher. It is dangerous to rely on the perspective of someone who cherry-picks her resources, uses them out of context, makes inflammatory and inaccurate claims, and who so clearly polarizes the conversation.  Sadly, the presence of this candidate and the volatility of her platform, will actually distract teachers from the important work they do because we’re going to be busy correcting miconceptions about SOGI that are the result of this candidate’s fear-mongering.


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Beware the One Trick Pony: Let’s Talk About School Trustee Elections and Anti-SOGI Platforms

So, it was kind of inevitable that a post about municipal elections would be forthcoming – particularly as it relates to candidates for School Trustee.  News of high profile Anti-SOGI candidates in districts across the province has bumped this topic to the front of the line.  You can refer to the Burnaby Now article for the specifics of her candidacy and her platform.  (From a lot of social media posts I’ve seen in the past few hours, I’m going to guess that a lot of people are already aware – and I’m thinking that Tamara Taggart is looking downright heroic at the moment.)

This is not a new topic, and we’ve certainly been here before. Back in 2011, when some districts were investing time and energy in exploring Anti-Homophobia policies, there were very vocal, and adamantly opposed groups of parents who stepped forward into the spotlight, some who eventually formed political parties and ran a slate of candidates in subsequent elections.  Sadly, these opposition groups continue to feel entitled to an audience and claim they are not being considered or listened to.  What they fail to recognize is that their concerns have been heard. School districts are not unaware of the issues.  They’ve heard the voices.  They’ve considered the arguments.  They’ve seen the protest signs.  They simply recognize that the issue is complex, and that, after considering the perspectives of many stakeholders, human rights and legal perspectives, they have made deliberate choices to proceed with SOGI inclusive education.  Anti-SOGI Extremists have difficulty recognizing the difference between being consulted on issues and having control over them.

In many ways, I owe that small, vocal group of extremists a debt of gratitude because it was their rhetoric and the coverage of their dissent in the local media that prompted me to initiate conversations in my classroom about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The louder the Anti-SOGI sentiment, the clearer it continues to be to me how important and necessary SOGI is.  As a witness to the volatility of their perspective, I experienced, for the first time, an obligation to communicate a different message than the negativity that was highlighted in headlines.

I would like to acknowledge that this was years before SOGI 123 was an available resource.  Even without the resources available through SOGI 123, there are a multitude of ways in which SOGI is already present in schools, classrooms, and communities.  I have trouble understanding why Anti-SOGI Extremists invest so much energy in a tool that is simply a way to equip teachers with examples, vocabulary, and understandings to inform their decision making and enhance their implementation of curriculum in classrooms.  But, I’m guessing it stems from the same kind of mentality as repeatedly attempting to have LGBTQ+ books banned in schools.

In the Burnaby Now article, Thompson suggests that teachers aren’t qualified to support gender-creative or gender non-conforming children.  That’s certainly a questionable way to ingratiate yourself to the teachers in a district you want to represent.  Ultimately, her statements demonstrate that she clearly has no idea what goes on in classrooms or what teachers do.  So, here’s a bit of a primer on what teachers do.  Hopefully, this will assist in avoiding being misled by someone who routinely inserts herself into the conversation, misrepresenting what SOGI is, fear mongering to garner attention, and then claiming victimization when marginalized groups (and their allies) advocate for themselves.

So, as a trustee candidate it might be helpful to understand that what teachers do is LISTEN.  We consult with parents.  We engage in team meetings with a diverse representation of staff, all invested in supporting students.  We make referrals so parents can get support from the agencies and networks specific to their family’s needs.  We defer to experts, including physicians, psychologists, occupational therapists, and other clinicians.  We engage in professional development to assist us to become more equipped to respond to the diverse needs within classrooms.  We listen to and observe our students and we ambitiously take on the task of attempting to address their unique needs.  (Notice that I am not limiting this to the needs of LGBTQ+ students).

We seek to find the best ways to support our students with autism, with learning difficulties, students who don’t speak the language of instruction, students who are refugees or new immigrants, students who are anxious or traumatized, students with physical impairments, students with behaviour issues, students with mental health issues, and all other types of students who appear in our classrooms and contribute to the unique communities therein. What teachers do is accept the learners that appear before us and create classroom and school communities that foster comfortable, and inclusive spaces for students to engage in learning.  We are in the industry of getting students to understand and appreciate that they BELONG, they are valued, they are accepted, and they matter.  Whether we are talking about SOGI or any other aspect of school, what we are talking about is creating safe, inclusive environments that empower students to learn.   The most important issue in schools is NOT what Thompson refers to as gender ideology – it is whether or not kids feel welcomed and ready to learn when they walk through our doors.

Imagine a student with Tourette’s Syndrome who is prone to verbal outbursts.  We teach other students what Tourette’s is, and we teach them how to respond to behaviours that might be distracting.  Understanding that Tourette’s is a condition and that verbal outbursts or physical tics are not intentional choices helps students empathize and understand the individual.  It encourages students to avoid passing judgment, to recognize that differences don’t have to divide us, to be accepting, and to include that individual into the social fabric of their daily lives.

If we have a student who is gender fluid or identifies as non-binary, or transgender, we help students understand what that means.  We equip students with strategies to interact or respond to others, so that everyone can be treated with empathy, compassion, respect, and kindness.  Sometimes this is as simple as understanding what name or pronoun to use when referring to someone.  We try to eliminate the experience of rejection, ridicule, or exclusion, because we know that students who experience shame, feel insecure, or lack self-esteem, struggle to belong and to learn in ANY environment.  SOGI inclusive education is simply about creating the conditions where students who bring different experiences of gender identity or sexual orientation are able to be their authentic selves.

It appears that Thompson is under the impression that that when we talk to students about gender as a spectrum, that we are attempting to make ALL students gender fluid.  That is not the intent, nor the outcome.  The majority of students will identify as male or female and no one is trying to eliminate anyone’s right to identify in that manner.  SOGI inclusive education is simply about asking students to recognize that SOME people have a different experience of gender that is not adequately understood within binary restrictions.

Many who listen to Thompson’s narrative are left with the impression that the topic of transgender identities will come up in a classroom on a Tuesday, that a child hearing that conversation will experience confusion about their gender identity, announce their new names and pronouns when they come out as transgender at the dinner table that evening, undergo hormone therapy to postpone puberty on the Wednesday, and then have surgical intervention to affirm their gender identity on the Thursday.  You likely know how ridiculous that is if you’ve tried to get an appointment with your GP on short notice, and I’m pretty certain that getting in to see a specialist requires a lot of patience.  At no time, during this process are teachers making decisions or recommendations about these plans.  We simply engage in fostering an environment where kids feel safe and can, subsequently, engage in meaningful ways in the learning process.

Thompson’s proposed solution to the complexities of transgender students is to simply “love them to pieces.”  For someone who uses her social media platforms to criticize parents for supporting trans identities, and to misgender trans students, I question if she understands what love is.  If you want to see great examples of what love is, watch a teacher invest in a difficult student.  Watch them attempt every solution possible to engage a learner and to make them feel connected.  Take notice of the money they spend on their classrooms to enhance learning and to make kids feel welcome. Document the hours of reading, professional development, consultation, and the time they spend in meetings.  I am fortunate to work among a group of highly dedicated, well intentioned, innovative, compassionate professionals who do the daily work of making kids feel like learning is a worthwhile endeavour, and that they are an integral part of it.  I wish that Thompson could convince me that she understood this and wanted to support those efforts as a trustee.  She claims to be full of love.  I think she’s full of something, but I’m not convinced it’s love.

Part of me would like to see this particular candidate win a seat on the board, because she would have to promote a district which has an active and robust SOGI District Committee which includes Trustees, DPAC representatives, Teachers, Administrators, School Board Executives, Counsellors, SOGI District Leads, Teachers’ Association representation, Support Staff representation, and Student Voices.  It has several well-supported SOGI events.  Wouldn’t it be divine justice for her to have to work in a context where her District SOGI Leads provide leadership in the province via the Provincial SOGI Educators’ Network?

The other part of me, hopes that she doesn’t gain any traction, because the negative attention, and the fear-mongering will only waste time, energy, and resources that could be put to much better use.  It will provide distraction, distrust, and interference to the important work of supporting the unique needs of all our students that needs to be done.

We are more powerful teachers when we honour the diversity of our students, and encourage students to accept others as authentic beings.  We are more compassionate as a species when we seek to understand the experiences of people who are different from us, rather than negate them.  If we could recognize that all experiences, regardless of how foreign or different they may be from our lived experiences, contribute to an understanding of the human experience, we’d all probably get along a lot better.  If we could just step back, reflect, and acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their happiness, we’d be a much more enlightened species.

Sadly, these things that seem so obvious to me, apparently need to be said.  And they need to be said loudly, and repeatedly.






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