Tag 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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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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