When we set out to plan this issue on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, I wondered if it might be difficult to find enough authors. Far from it! The people I approached about contributing accepted with enthusiasm, and we had the strongest response to our call for queries I have seen since I began editing this magazine. Clearly, the time is right for us to focus on this important topic.
It’s no secret that updating “sex ed” curricula to include SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) has proved controversial in Canada. Significant numbers of parents don’t want their children exposed to these concepts. (Many others do, as a recent poll by the Ontario Ministry of Education survey revealed.) But as Bryan Gidinski points out, children already are exposed. They have classmates with same-sex parents, they see trans people on the street and wonder about them, and they hear the slurs. More crucially, we have students in every school who will be at physical and/or emotional risk if they are not met with understanding and inclusion. And we are not there yet. I recently heard a very upset parent describe how her 11-year-old daughter spoke out against some taunting she observed at school, saying “There’s nothing wrong with being gay.” She has been harassed and bullied ever since, just for voicing her support.
So let’s get down to the how. How do we build a school culture where all students, across the gender and sexuality spectrums, feel (and are) safe, accepted, and free to be themselves?
Our contributors have a wealth of ideas to move us toward that goal. They tackle many of the uncertainties educators face: How to talk about SOGI to very young students; how to handle concerns based on religious and cultural beliefs; how to create gender-friendly classrooms; and the facts to counter common myths about LGTBQ2+ students. In our Voice of Experience column, trans student Kyle George shares how personal gestures of support from teachers made a world of difference to them. Systemic supports are important, but so are the small acts of kindness that tell a student, “I’m on your side.”
For better or worse, school plays a huge role in children’s development. It is not just where they learn; it is their social hub – or crucible. It is where they start to “try on” their adult identities. As Kristopher Wells writes, “Every child should have the right to be themselves fully and completely.” If we can make this the reality in our public schools, that is a big step towards a future where it simply is the reality, and we hope that this issue serves as an important resource to help educators get there.
Photo: Dave Donald
First published in Education Canada, June 2019