Category Archives: SOGI

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)

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/transgender-violence-remembrance-day-1.4409770

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

https://www.glaad.org/transweek

 

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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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How to “Rebound” When Protestors and Propaganda Get You Down: A Classroom Teacher’s Perspective on SOGI Inclusive Education

Can we have a rational conversation about what SOGI looks like in classrooms?  Too often it seems like the answer is “apparently not.”  A better answer is, it depends on who’s in the conversation. When it involves protestors and propagandists, it’s hardly a conversation, because nobody’s making the effort to listen.

As educators and students return to classrooms, it is a good opportunity to start a dialogue on the inclusion of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) content in the classroom.  During the summer, I’ve read a lot of passionate threads on social media about SOGI.  Passionate parents advocating for the protection of their LGBTQ+ children, and passionate advocates for the abolition of SOGI.  As an educator, I’m surprised by the dialogue about the topic.  I’m not necessarily surprised by the bigotry of some of the most vehement opposition to SOGI.  What I’m most surprised by is the inaccuracy of what is being reported about what goes on in classrooms.  There are some pretty dangerous claims about what transpires, and the claims are dangerous because they are inaccurate.

I have heard ridiculous claims about directions teachers have been given to implement SOGI inclusive education (i.e. the words “boys” or “girls” are now banned from classrooms).  I have never been given these instructions, nor have I ever given any of them to anyone else.  Please be reminded to thoughtfully consider where your information is coming from, and how reliable it is.  If you want to know what SOGI looks like in classrooms, talk to your child’s teachers. They are the ones making daily decisions about how best to facilitate the learning of students in their classrooms. It is their obligation to implement curriculum in a thoughtful manner that is sensitive to the needs of their learners. There are a lot of reasons to trust the judgement of your child’s teachers and your community school’s administrative teams.  They have professional training, they have classroom experience, they care about your kids, and they tend to be responsive to your concerns.

What I hope to share here is an example of what SOGI is and how it works from the perspective of a classroom teacher.  Some groups who oppose SOGI inclusive education leave you with the impression that what teachers do all day, every day, is to indoctrinate students with SOGI content. Listen to the teachers of your children talk about the curricular plans and goals they have for the year, and you will quickly recognize how ridiculous some of the claims about SOGI are.

My experience reviewing a novel this summer feels like a pretty good analogy of what SOGI is and how it is actualized in a classroom.

I was assigned to review the novel, Rebound by Kwame Alexander.  It is an engaging read; a 414 page narrative about a boy dealing with the sudden loss of his father, and finding comfort, purpose, and passion in basketball.  It is unique in that it is a novel in verse, a growing genre in adolescent literature. It is also a prequel to Alexander’s previous, Newberry Award-winning novel, The Crossover.  My task was, working as a member of a team of educators, to determine if the novel was appropriate for classroom use.  After considering social considerations, and curricular fit, the novel was recommended for middle school grades

On page 347, we encountered the following passage:

How hot is it out here?
my Uncle Richard says,
wiping his face
with the bath towel
draped around
his tank-topped chest. 

It’s so hot his boyfriend responds, I saw a coyote chasing a jackrabbit and they were both walking, which NO ONE laughs at.
Granddaddy hollers, It’s so hot even the Devil took the day off, which EVERYBODY laughs at.

It’s the only specific reference to homosexuality that we encountered in the book.  The characters are peripheral, and not hugely influential in the development of the plot, but they are present.  In choosing to use the book in a classroom context, it communicates an important message; for those of you who may identify with these characters, you are worthy of mention.  You are not alone.  There are other people like you and other families that are like yours.  The novel has merit as a read aloud, as a novel selection, or as part of a classroom library collection.  It’s not a novel that would likely be catalogued as LGBTQ+ fiction.

It is not a crusade to convert or recruit anyone.  It is not a glorification of a character’s identity over another.  The simple mention will not inspire someone who is heterosexual to suddenly become gay. It simply puts characters of a historically marginalized group into the narrative and acknowledges their existence. In the same way that stories about Indigenous experiences, or experiences of People of Colour, or experiences of New Immigrants are important, it simply provides a representation of diverse identities.  Every child, in every classroom should be able to see representations of themselves reflected in their learning materials.

One passage on one page.  That amounts to 1/414 of the book (or 0.2% of the book if you prefer percentages).  Hardly as dangerous as some people would have you believe.

It may lead to some questions.  It may lead to some conversation.  A teacher may need to provide a definition of what it means to be gay. But it is hardly the indoctrination that some would try to convince you that it is.


**If you are finding this content helpful in clarifying what SOGI is, and developing a level of comfort with SOGI content in a typical classroom, please consider sharing this material with others, and please consider subscribing to this site. There is obviously a need to clarify the value of SOGI and to provide some real-life context to how SOGI inclusive education unfolds in classrooms.  Unfortunately, this is hardly as newsworthy as some of the inflammatory claims being made by Anti-SOGI extremists, and not nearly as combative as 280 character tweets being made from the anonymity of a faceless profile.  More to come on this topic…

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What is SOGI?  What Does it Look Like in Elementary Schools?

The acronym SOGI stands for Sexual Orientation / Gender Identity.  Generally speaking, SOGI education is an effort to create safe, inclusive environments that are respectful of differences, and maintain the dignity of all individuals.  SOGI is a term that is intended to be inclusive of all orientations and identities.  Our communities are made up of diverse citizens, including those from the LGBTQ community.  The goals of SOGI education align with Human Rights laws that provide protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

SOGI is a relatively new term, but SOGI objectives include learning objectives that have been present in classrooms for a number of years, preceding curricular changes that have recently been implemented.  SOGI is not a separate curriculum, but rather includes a variety of topics, vocabulary, and understandings that are integrated into existing curricular objectives.

In early grades, teachers facilitate conversations about families.  They ask students to identify the members of their families and what family means to them.  Students are asked to recognize that other families might be different from their own.  Some students might come from single parent families.  Some students might be being raised by grandparents.  Some students might be adopted.  Some students might be in blended families. Some students might be in foster care.  Some students might have same-sex parents. The key understandings are that not all families are the same, and that all students, regardless of their family structure, are worthy of love, deserve to be respected, and need a safe, respectful place to learn and to have the opportunity to achieve their potential. Students often conclude that providing love and support is what makes a family.

Some examples of books that might be explored during a unit of study on family diversity might include:

A Family is A Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary, is about a young child who worries that her “family is not like everybody else’s.”  She and her classmates are asked to share what makes their families special.  The story is an adorable collection of vignettes about a diverse range of family structures.  Practically every student will be able to identify with and make personal connections to the family representations in the book.

 

 

How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman is an amusing story about how two people from very different cultural backgrounds meet, fall in love, try to learn to adopt the eating customs of the other, and end up forming a family.

 

 

 

Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer is a story about a young girl’s dilemma about who to bring to a Mothers Day Celebration being hosted at her school, because she doesn’t have a mother, but has two dads instead.

 

 

 

In later grades, teachers engage students in understanding the negative impacts of name-calling.  They facilitate activities that encourage students to be empathetic, and to recognize how someone else might feel.  They help students to recognize that hurtful language can have lasting impacts.  They also explore why certain words are hurtful, and the importance of using respectful language.  Students develop an understanding of what bullying is, including homophobic bullying.

They also engage in developing understandings of perceptions of masculinity and femininity.  Though these sound like sophisticated concepts, they can be explored from the perspective of what toys or activities are stereotypically perceived as appropriate for girls, or appropriate for boys.  As a society, we seem to be willing to accept that a girl might have preferences for activities that are typically associated with boys, but there continues to be a lot of negative judgment about boys who prefer activities more typically associated with girls.  Again, the emphasis is on recognizing that some behaviours or preferences may be different than our own, and that regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the behaviours we observe, we have an obligation to engage in respectful interactions.

Some picture books that might be explored during this topic could include:

The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein is about a duck who is bullied for being unathletic, but perceptions of him change when he does something heroic.

 

 

 

Not all Princes Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen and Heidi Yolen Semple explores the idea that not every princess subscribes to a rigid set of societal expectations.

 

 

 

 

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino is about an imaginative, artistic boy who loves to play in his classroom’s dress up centre, but becomes unwelcome in the classroom spaceship when he dons a tangerine dress.

 

 

 

 

Some Novels or read-alouds might include:

The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams is a humorous story about a boy and his friend who bond while browsing over fashion magazines.  The main character, Dennis, is talked into trying on a dress that his friend made and the pair decide to see if Dennis can fool people into believing he is actually a foreign exchange female student.  Interestingly enough, the only reference to Dennis’ sexual orientation is his attraction to a female friend.

 

 

 

 

My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin is an engaging story about a young teenage boy who loves to dance.  He prefers dancing to playing football and tries to balanceboth in order to simultaneously live out his passion and to satisfy his father’s athletic expectations.  He gets engaged in a plot to win a dance contest to discredit the dance study that once rejected the female protagonist whose affection he is trying to win.

In intermediate grades, students continue to explore stereotypes and human rights.  They explore injustices that have happened over the course of human history.  Events like the Japanese Internment, Residential Schools, and the Holocaust are opportunities to understand how different groups have been targeted or persecuted for being perceived as different and / or threatening.  Simultaneously, students engage in studies that promote seeing situations from different perspectives, exercising compassion, and standing up for injustice.  Conversations around bullying involve the role of the bystander, and the possibility of advocating for or supporting someone who is being victimized.

In each of these scenarios, the emphasis remains on being respectful of others, and making connections to others’ experiences so that we can empathize with them and understand their perspectives.  It is about recognizing that others may have different views or traditions, preferences or behaviours, but that every person needs to be treated with respect and dignity.  Being able to converse with people of diverse backgrounds creates citizens who are thoughtful, engage in mutually respectful interactions, and understand how to show kindness and compassion to others.  These objectives are often in alignment with the teachings of faith-based communities.

A more mature read that I did as a powerful read aloud in my Grade 6/7 classroom:

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen is an engaging story told from two perspectives.  One is gifted, eccentric Stuart, and the other is popular, social status obsessed Ashley.  The pair become part of a blended family after Stuart’s mother passes away, and Ashley’s parents divorce after her father comes out as gay.  Told with sensitivity, humour, and some brilliant characterizations the story tackles some mature topics (including bullying, homophobia, loss, and the value of friendships) in thoughtful and accessible ways.

 

 

 

 

Some understandings about sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity are important to these conversations, so that students who have LGBTQ identities are included in conversations, see themselves reflected in the curriculum, and are not discriminated against. The reality is that there are students in our schools who are LGBTQ, even if they don’t identify at this time.  There may be staff or families of students with LGBTQ identities.  SOGI education isn’t just about supporting LGBTQ students.  SOGI provides students with the opportunity to learn about LGBTQ identities in a respectful context, rather than relying on negative myths or stereotypes to define those communities. Understanding our own, as well as other people’s experiences is what contributes to being a well-informed, thoughtful, and empathetic person, as well as an engaged respectful citizen that can function effectively in diverse communities.

 

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