Thanks to my daughter noticing gender binary bias and her principal being progressive, Hopewell elementary school will become more LGBT-safe.
One evening last November, my daughter told me that her grade three teacher had presented the Venn diagram (two overlapping circles) and suggested that boy-girl could not be presented on a Venn diagram. Without any comment from me, my daughter said “Madame doesn’t seem to know about intersex people.”
I told the teacher the next day how my child interpreted that lesson and that a Venn diagram is one way to present sex and gender fluidity, including some transgender and genderqueer identities. I shared the genderbread concept.
I followed up with the school principal, Lynn Watson, because this was a school-wide issue. We exchanged emails, spoke by phone and met for an hour. Lynn was immediately receptive and has committed to:
1. Arrange gender diversity training for Hopewell teachers in 2015, working with specialized educators through the Ottawa Carleton District School Board.
2. Ask Hopewell teachers who’ve taught LGBT-positive curriculum (Lynn has already identified two) to share their experience with their peers.
3. Purchase French books on gender diversity for the library, inviting my daughter and her teacher to review them.
4. Focus on LGBT issues for the annual professional development day next October.
5. Work with the school’s anti-bullying committee to focus its activities on LGBT issues for the 2015-16 school year.
6. Contribute to advancing LGBT-safe education at the school board level, where there are initiatives underway.
I agreed to help the Inclusive, Safe and Caring School Committee, if it agrees to focus on homophobic and transphobic bullying.
I’m excited that Principal Watson is taking these steps and proud of my daughter for sparking this change. Thank you to the people who pointed me to LGBT education resources and encouraged me, in particular Carol Proulx, Beck Hood, j wallace and the feminist social justice parenting group on Facebook.
I share below my letter to Principal Watson, in case others can use any of the content for their own advocacy.
Dear Ms. Watson,
I’m writing on behalf of myself and my partner Chris Lawson to express concern about an incident in our daughter Mallory’s class and request clarification on the Hopewell school curriculum related to gender identity.
Here is what we understand of the situation:
Mallory told us last Thursday evening that her teacher presented the Venn diagram in class that day and said that male-female could not be presented on a Venn diagram. Mallory said “Madame doesn’t know about intersex people.” We talked about some transgender and gender non-conforming folks also fitting better on a Venn model than a strict boy vs. girl model. We’ve discussed gender diversity with Mallory for several years, since she started showing interest in gender, as kids normally do at a young age. We asked Mallory if she minded us following up with her teacher about the Venn diagram and gender diversity, and she was fine with that.
I’ve spoken with Mallory’s teacher, and she suggested I follow up with you. We believe this would be a great opportunity to teach about gender diversity. Our concern is school-wide education on gender diversity; we are not interested in singling out one teacher. I expect a number of Hopewell teachers would have handled the situation similarly.
We present below our understanding of Hopewell’s mandate and responsibility to provide LGBT-positive education, including seizing learning opportunities such as the one that Mallory’s classmate presented. The source documents are listed at the end of this message.
The OCDSB Equity and Inclusive Education Policy states that inclusive education “is based on the principles of acceptance and inclusion of all students. Students see themselves reflected in their curriculum, their physical surroundings, and the broader environment in which diversity is honoured and all individuals are respected” (Ottawa Carleton District School Board 2011). Gender identity is among the ‘dimensions of diversity” covered by the policy. There is no age specification in the policy.
Nor is there a grade level limitation in the OCDSB statement on inclusive education, which states that “all schools in the OCDSB will strive to ensure that all members of the school community feel safe, comfortable, and accepted” (Ottawa Carleton District School Board).
The Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum, which is introduced in Grade 3, specifically deals with gender identity. Children are expected “to distinguish the similarities and differences between themselves and others (e.g. In terms of body size or gender) (Ophea 2013). Nowhere in the document is gender restricted to a binary concept, so there is legitimate space for teachers to work within the curriculum to address gender complexity.
In the Chamberlain v. Surrey School District case, the court ruled that “tolerance is always age appropriate” (Supreme Court of Canada 2002). Among other things, the Supreme Court held that the school board had violated the principles of the B.C. School Act because it proceeded on an exclusionary philosophy, acting only on the concern of certain parents. The school board also failed to consider the curriculum’s goal that children at the kindergarten and grade 1 levels be able to discuss their family models, and that all children be made aware of the diversity of family models in Canadian society. While this case addressed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it is equally relevant to the protected grounds of gender identity and expression.
In Ontario, gender identity and gender expression are protected grounds in the Ontario Human Rights Code. Those protections are not age specific.
The Public Health Agency of Canada states in its recent guidelines on Gender Identity in Schools that “the most important task for schools is to provide a safe, nurturing, non-violent atmosphere in which to learn, to grow and to develop for all students, inclusive of all gender identities” (Government of Canada 2014). One way schools do this is by “providing accurate information about gender diversity”. PHAC does not specify a minimum age for this education, and it encourages a proactive approach: “Schools should not wait until a gender variant student comes forward to address the issue. By the time a student makes their identity known it is likely that they have been struggling on their own for some time.”
A study by Ryan, Patraw and Bednar confirmed that elementary school-aged children are ready for curriculum on gender diversity (Ryan, Patraw, and Bednar 2013). It documented how an urban public school teacher included discussions of transgender and gender-nonconforming people within the curriculum and the ways in which her students responded to those lessons. Students learned to question restrictive social systems, think more inclusively about gender expression and identity, and apply this knowledge to other experiences.
There are a number of excellent resources for K-12 curricula on gender diversity (Martino 2013; The Pride Education Network 2011; The Society for Safe and Caring Schools & Communities 2012; Family Services Ottawa 2010). Of particular note, the Canadian Federation of Teachers recently published a 57-page guidebook, Supporting Transgender and Transsexual Students in K-12 Schools (Gayle Roberts, Kristopher Wells, and Carol Allan 2012). It provides evidence-based information to help educators demystify gender variance. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario is among the groups advocating for an elementary curriculum that explicitly recognizes gender diversity (Rosalind Raby 2009).
For the reasons outlined above, we feel Hopewell is obligated to promote positive attitudes and actions regarding gender diversity, including in the Grade 3 curriculum.
We look forward to your response and would like to meet you in person to discuss options.
Family Services Ottawa. 2010. “Toolkit for Educators and Service Providers Working with LGBTTQ Parents and Their Children: Creating LGBTTQ-Friendly Learning Spaces for Children 0-12.” http://familyservicesottawa.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Toolkit-for-Educators-and-Service-Providers2011.pdf.
Gayle Roberts, Kristopher Wells, and Carol Allan. 2012. Supporting Transgender and Transsexual Students in K-12 Schools. Canadian Teachers’ Federation. http://www.ctf-fce.ca/en/news/Pages/default.aspx?newsid=1983984754&year=2012.
Government of Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada. 2014. “Questions and Answers: Gender Identity in Schools – Public Health Agency of Canada.” March 7. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/std-mts/rp/gi-is/index-eng.php.
Martino, Wayne. 2013. “An Invaluable Resource for Supporting Transgender, Transsexual, and Gender-Nonconforming Students in School Communities: A Review of Supporting Transgender and Transsexual Students in K–12 Schools.” Journal of LGBT Youth 10 (1-2): 169–72. doi:10.1080/19361653.2012.717836.
Ophea. 2013. “Sexual Health Education in Schools across Canada.” http://www.ophea.net/sites/default/files/pdfs/advocacy/ADV_SexEdReportFINAL_31MY13.pdf.
Ottawa Carleton District School Board. 2011. “Equity and Inclusive Education Policy.”http://www.ocdsb.ca/ab-ocdsb/p-n-p/Policies%20and%20Procedures/P%20098%20CUR%20Equity%20and%20Inclusive%20Ed.pdf.
———. “Statement on Inclusive Education.” http://www.ocdsb.ca/ab-ocdsb/InclusiveSafeandCaring/Pages/Equity-and-Inclusive-Education.aspx.
Rosalind Raby. 2009. “Teachers Seek Inclusion of Transgender, Gay Iss…” Mid-North Monitor. May 20.http://www.midnorthmonitor.com/2009/05/20/teachers-seek-inclusion-of-transgender-gay-issues-in-curriculum.
Ryan, Caitlin L., Jasmine M. Patraw, and Maree Bednar. 2013. “Discussing Princess Boys and Pregnant Men: Teaching About Gender Diversity and Transgender Experiences Within an Elementary School Curriculum.” Journal of LGBT Youth 10 (1-2): 83–105. doi:10.1080/19361653.2012.718540.
Supreme Court of Canada. 2002. “Chamberlain v. Surrey School District No. 36.” http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/2030/index.do.
The Pride Education Network. 2011. The Gender Spectrum: What Educators Need to Know. http://pridenet.ca/wp-content/uploads/the-gender-spectrum.pdf.
The Society for Safe and Caring Schools & Communities. 2012. “Safe and Caring Schools and Transgender Students: A Guide for Teachers.” http://safeandcaring.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Transgender-Booklet_Web-Booklet.pdf.