ON LGBTQ-INCLUSIVE EDUCATION IN CANADA’S K-12 SCHOOLS
Ten years ago, LGBTQ-inclusive education was rarely addressed beyond a few major Canadian cities and school divisions. Educators who recognized its importance were virtually on their own in most school systems. Since that time, media attention to the suicides of bullied LGBTQ youth has brought the issue of the safety of LGBTQ-identified students from the back burner to the front, leading to the development of policies that emphasize detection and punishment of homophobic and transphobic harassment. More recently, some provinces and school officials have come to realize that student safety cannot be fostered through reactive and punitive measures alone, pursuing safety, instead, by fostering inclusive school cultures.
This shift in emphasis is reflected in recent school district policy and provincial legislation. For example, the Government of Manitoba (2014) amended The Public Schools Act to require all publicly funded schools to implement safe and inclusive policies for LGBTQ students; the Ontario Accepting Schools Act (2012) mandated that school boards develop equity policies and support student-led groups aimed at promoting inclusivity, including Gay-Straight Alliances. Alberta was the most recent province to introduce this kind of legislation in 2015. In Québec, Bill 56, An Act to Prevent and Stop Bullying and Violence in Schools, was unanimously passed in 2012, requiring public and private schools to develop action plans to end bullying—including that which is based on sexual orientation, sexual identity, and homophobia. Vancouver School Board (2014a, 2014b) has recently revised its LGBTQ-inclusive education policy to reflect best practices in transgender accommodation and inclusion; and, while not amending their provincial legislation, the government of New Brunswick has nonetheless gone one step further than Ontario or Manitoba by instituting a ministerial policy requiring schools to provide a GSA when requested not only by students but by anyone.
However, education policy and law cannot be effective unless the people doing the educating—teachers, school officials and counsellors—are on board. In the Every Teacher Project we set out to investigate the perspectives of Canadian educators on the safety and inclusion of LGBTQ students and topics in schools. Our analysis of survey data found that educators share the perspective that safety and inclusion go hand in hand. Almost three-quarters of survey participants chose “Inclusion” instead of “Security” and “Regulation” in answer to the question, “What does school safety mean to you?” Our analysis attests that Canadian educators understand that the safety of marginalized students depends on their inclusion as fully respected members of the school community.
This perspective of inclusivity as necessary to safety is evident in teacher organizations as well. In many ways, and for many years, teacher organizations have often led the way (alongside progressive school districts) towards LGBTQ inclusion by developing curricular resources, offering professional development for their members, defending members in conflicts with school system officials involving LGBTQ rights, and consulting with government. This leadership reflects teacher organizations’ awareness of the challenges affecting their membership: the teachers, counsellors, education assistants, administrators, and other educators who work directly with LGBTQ students and witness their marginalization, and with members who identify as LGBTQ. They also understand that inclusion of LGBTQ students takes work. Even in 2015, given LGBTQ students’ long and ongoing history of exclusion, both systemic and systematic, from all aspects of official school life, as well as their extreme marginalization in unofficial school life, the persistence of organized opposition to their right to a safe and inclusive education continues.
This report presents the results of the online survey phase of the “Every Teacher Project” on Canadian K-12 educators’ perceptions and experiences of “LGBTQ-inclusive” education, including curriculum, policies, and practices that include positive and accurate information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Two Spirit, and queer people as well as issues related to gender and sexual diversity (also known as GSD-inclusive education). This type of education is inclusive of students who would otherwise be marginalized by school climates that are typically hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Two Spirit, or queer students, or students questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity (LGBTQ); to students who have LGBTQ parents, friends or other loved ones; and to cisgender heterosexual (CH) students who can also be directly or indirectly affected by homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. The project surveyed thousands of educators in the school year ending June 2013. We will report on the focus group phase of the Every Teacher Project in 2016.
Taylor, C., Peter, T., Campbell, C., Meyer, E., Ristock, J., & Short, D. (2015). The Every Teacher Project on LGBTQ-inclusive education in Canada’s K-12 schools: Final report. Winnipeg, MB: Manitoba Teachers’ Society.