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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.  https://www.edcan.ca/articles/how-young-can-sogi-go/

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:

 

MEDIA RELEASE
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” (https://transanityca.wordpress.com).
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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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: http://www.lostboysconsulting.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Introducing-Teddy.docx

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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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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Captain’s Log: Supplemental

Apparently, I’m in a Star Trek kind of mood today…

Following up on a request from the Artist Inquiry: From Study to Studio workshop delivered at the PITA Fall conference, here are slides of student portfolios (prepared after some “interesting” self-directed technology lessons).

Completed portfolios needed to include 9 – 12 pieces.  In the slide show, individual portfolios are separated by a title page with student initials.  Portfolio pieces from each student’s collection are generally presented in the sequence they were done.

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Self-Reflection for Reporting

As I take a break from drafting report cards, I’m relieved that I had students do this linked activity.  It has become a bit of a fascinating process whereby I continue to learn about how students see themselves in relation to reporting.

I did this with my class of Grade 6/7 students and in about 2/3 of the cases, I could use their self-reflective paragraphs, written in third person, as my final term report card comments.  In the remaining cases, it leaves me with pieces that inform my drafting of their reports.  This process has provided me with some relevant information about areas they might have experienced growth in that maybe I hadn’t had the chance to observe and with some descriptors of the types of students they view themselves as that I may not have considered.  It is allowing me to incorporate some of their own sense of achievement during the year (or in the final term) into their report cards, honouring their perceptions of their own growth.

Students were asked to be sincere, honest, and critical in the brainstorming responses and then write a genuinely accurate paragraph depicting what a report card paragraph would look like.  They were permitted to embellish and exaggerate for the “worst case scenario.”

The most fascinating response was a student who wrote a version of his report card paragraph that might be best described as “wishful thinking” or, in another way as “delusional.”  However, he wrote a very critical and precise “worst case scenario” in which he critically identified some of his shortcomings.

His paragraph he would “like to see on his report card”

“Simon” is a well-organized, and hardworking kid who takes precise notes to record all work done in class.  He is friendly and helpful to his classmates which helps build his leadership and communication skills.  He participates actively in class discussions which improves his confidence.  When he is part of group projects, others look to him for guidance.  He is patient when listening to everyone’s point of view.  He volunteers for a lot of school projects and extracurricular activities.  He is a genuine, warm-hearted kid who loves to help people wherever he can.  His work displays an effort to learn and improve.

I could easily refute most of these comments with direct quotes from anecdotal comments I’ve collected throughout the year.

His worst case scenario report:

While “Simon” is a hardworking kid, his grades fail to portray this fact.  I find that he doesn’t ask enough questions in class to clarify what needs to be done on his assignments which leads to him getting a poor grade.  I also find that “Simon” fails to think critically in his assignments and does not explain his points.  I cannot understand them accurately.  He also needs to improve his grammar skills.  His work often comprises of run on sentences.  If he wishes to achieve a better grade, he will have to improve on all of these things.

I had to laugh at the accuracy and candidness of this passage, which is a much truer depiction of the student behaviours and tendencies I have observed, some of which we have conferenced about.  Overall….fascinating sense of himself as a student.

Student Evaluation Reports Grade 7 2012

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If only I had something profound to say…

IMG_0295I’ve been putting off doing this for a while now.  There have been plenty of excuses, lots of distractions, and a fair bit of procrastination in the meantime.  There are a few things that have brought my attention back to this site, and particularly to the idea of blogging.  One is that I’ve been really enjoying some of the writing products that have come out of the classroom activities we’ve been doing lately.  (I teach a Grade 6/7 class this year – 18 boys, 10 girls).  Another is the excitement building as I collaborate with a group of colleagues over upcoming Family Literacy Day celebrations we’re planning.  And thirdly, I have a few speaking engagements on the horizon that I’m revising content for in anticipation of the conferences I will be attending in the next few months.

I wanted to start off the blog with some profound declarations that would change the way people thought about writing instruction and about teaching boys.  Every time I try to come up with something  profound, I draw a blank.  So I’ve abandoned that idea and decided that I’d just start the blog, see if there’s an audience for it, and follow where it leads me.  If you’ve read this far, I hope you will consider joining the adventure and contribute to the conversation.

I remember when I first started preparing to present my “Show! Don’t Tell” workshop, a workshop that has consistently gotten positive feedback and is really the foundation for all the writing workshops that I present.  I remember the nervousness as I tried to determine what to include and how to address my audience.  I worried that people would resent me for “telling them what to do.”  It was early in my career, and I figured that more experienced teachers would reject and criticize my “unseasoned” advice.  It wasn’t until I changed my thinking and decided that it wasn’t about giving advice, but rather about sharing the experiences I’d had and demonstrating the results that I had got with my students, that I could feel comfortable stepping into my role as a presenter.  I will attempt to follow that philosophy as I share things here in this space. The intention is that it will be a place to share experiences (some of the triumphant ones as well as the frustrations).  I’ll try to refer you to some of the resources that I have found influential (both in my curricular teaching and in meeting the needs of boys in today’s classrooms).  I’ll try to make this a forum where people can question, share stories, collaborate, and commiserate over the challenges and celebrations that go along with this multifaceted job of being an educator.

I provide the following for your consideration.  It stems from a community night that we hosted at our school.  We invited parents to come (with their students) and participate in what we referred to as a writing event.  In conjunction with our school goals, we thought it was helpful to provide parents with some context and additional understandings about the kind of writing we were asking students to do in classrooms throughout the school.  We felt it would be valuable in engaging parents as partners if we could establish some key understandings about writing.  The following is what we hoped would set the context for conversations about writing.

Setting the Stage for Conversations With Your Child About Writing

Engaging in conversations with your children about writing has the potential to profoundly influence their attitudes about writing and help them to develop their skills. Giving some specific and supportive feedback to a piece of writing can help them develop a willingness to revise and revisit what they have drafted and to participate meaningfully in the writing process.

Here are some things that we know about writing:

1) If you can talk about it, you can write it.

An important part of the writing process is the pre-writing process. Having your child talk about the topics they plan to write about helps to give them a foundation. If they have already thought about the topic, they are better able to transfer the ideas from “inside their heads” onto paper or into a computer. Asking specific questions can help them recall or invent details to make the writing more detailed and descriptive. Conversations, webs, or brainstorms can help a writer select a worthy topic to write about. Students who have difficulty writing can sketch pictures or storyboards of what they want to write about which can give them the foundation to then develop the description and action to enable them to write.

2) Writing is a very complex task.

Writing is probably one of the most complicated, multi-tasking activities we ask children to do. It requires a writer to invent, process and organize thoughts inside his or her head, to transfer ideas on to paper, to recognize and apply proper spelling rules, to use proper punctuation and grammatical structures, to draft, organize and sequence information in text, and to be aware of the purpose and audience of the piece of writing they are drafting. Having children focus on one particular aspect (or a small, manageable set of aspects) allows them to really develop that particular skill without the task feeling overwhelming. This allows them to experience success in increments and, as they master some of the skills, they are better able to perform the necessary steps to complete powerful, informative pieces of text.

 3) Writing is a process.

One of the scariest objects for a writer is the blank page. It is important for students to be aware that getting content down is the key to developing a meaningful piece of writing. It is important to get ideas down. They can be extended, elaborated, reorganized, re-sequenced, re-invented later. Though spelling and punctuation are important, the emphasis on proper spelling and grammar shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the process of outputting material and creating a draft that can be revisited. Typically, authors spend more time on pre-writing strategies or activities (i.e. planning what they will write about or developing an outline), and re-writing activities (editing, revising, proof-reading, checking for clarity) than in the actual writing of a piece.

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Welcome

Just getting started can be a challenge….

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