A few weeks ago I attended a lecture on the systematic inclusion and exclusion of queer content in American and Canadian school systems.
Below are my notes from the presentation by Elizabeth J. Meyer, interspersed with some links to docs and personal commentary. What are your thoughts on how we can build more inclusive educational environments? When do you think these efforts need to be put into place and why?
- Structural discrimination perpetuated through social discourse and institutions (ex. textbooks with overt homophobic biases)
- Issues of representation and visibility (ex. lack of genderqueer pronouns or accessible washrooms)
- Creates and maintains violent and risky environments
No “Pro Homo” Laws
- No Pro Homo laws are pieces of legislation that explicitly state that any homosexual-related content cannot be included in educational material, unless it is “factual” and presented in a negative light
- This goes so far as to insist on a counselling referral, suggestion for reparative therapy, and parental notification on behalf of an educator should a student “come out” to them
- Neutrality laws can also be included in this section, meaning that while some school boards, states or provinces may not have explicitly homophobic legislation, some legislation may encourage silence. (Let’s keep in mind here the wise words of Desmond Tutu, who said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”)
- California and Texas are the two states requiring the largest number of textbooks, meaning that whichever book(s) these states decide to use in their curriculum are the ones that are then offered to school boards across the United States. The Revisionaries (which I saw at Hot Docs in 2012) is an excellent documentary that sheds light on the issues stemming from this concentrated power:
- I find it very interesting to take a step back and look at who and what events end up being discussed in schools. The first year human rights class at Carleton requires within the first few weeks a reading of Howard Zinn’s “The Use and Abuse of History,” which talks about how bias is interjected into how history is recorded. I was lucky enough to receive a slightly alternative education at the Island Public Natural Science School, where our grade five social studies curriculum included an introduction to the residential school system in Canada. As a TA for the first year human rights course in the final year of my undergraduate degree, I was shocked at the small number of my students who had even heard of the residential school system before taking that course. There were two out of my fifty students who had heard of the system – one of whom identified as Indigenous and spoke about their personal experiences with the intergenerational effects of this system
- Ontario Bill 13 “Accepting Schools Act” (Issue: GSAs and having to refer to it as a GSA)
Bill 13 requires school boards to prevent and address inappropriate and disrespectful behaviour among students in our schools.These behaviours include bullying, discrimination and harassment.The new law makes it clear that these behaviours are unacceptable in our schools. It promotes respect and understanding for all students regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or any other factor.
This reminded me of the fight to establish GSAs within the Toronto Catholic School Board (which is publicly funded!)
- B.C. TWU vs. SFU (2001) Creating what Meyer called “officially homophobic teachers”
In the absence of “concrete evidence [that] training teachers at TWU fosters discrimination in the public schools of B.C., the freedom of individuals to adhere to certain religious beliefs while at TWU should be respected,” said the Court. “Tolerance of divergent beliefs is a hallmark of a democratic society.
- B.C. Chamberlin case (2002)
In 1997, James Chamberlain, a primary school teacher in Surrey, British Columbia, sought permission from School District 36 Surrey to use three books in his kindergarten and first grade classes. The books were Asha’s Mums, Belinda’s Bouquet and One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads, and each presented families where both parents were of the same sex. Chamberlain asserted that the books were necessary to reflect the realities of today’s families and to teach his pupils about diversity and tolerance. A 4-2 majority of the board voted to deny the requested approval.
- B.C. Kempling (2004)
Christopher Stephen Myles Kempling (born October 15, 1955) is a Canadian educator and counsellor who was suspended by the British Columbia College of Teachers and disciplined by the Quesnel School District for anti-gay comments that created a discriminatory and harmful environment for his LGBT students. Kempling challenged the suspension in court, arguing that his right to freedom of expression had been violated.
- B.C. Jubran (2005) Similar to how Jer’s Vision was established in Ottawa
A former North Vancouver high school student who was subjected to homophobic bullying has won his fight against the school district in a case that was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Azmi Jubran, 24, says he was teased and tormented for five years at Handsworth Secondary – and the school district did nothing to stop it.
- B.C. Social Justice 12 (2008)
Is it enough to offer a different course in grade 12, rather than making all courses inclusive or integrating similar concepts into all course material? There are so many concepts lumped under “Social Justice 12,” that one teacher who was in attendance commented that they had to use their own judgment (and therefore, intersperse their own bias into the material), in order to pick and choose which topics would be covered. Teachers also do not receive any training or professional development opportunities in regards to having to teach this relatively new course. In Abbotsford, B.C., the course was not approved by the school board. The irony of this specific situation is that social justice activism eventually achieved the integration of the course into the curriculum.
- Reformations to California’s schools: AB1266 (Gender Identity); Fair Education Act (however, 95% of teachers have never heard of this law, and textbooks won’t be renewed for another three years)
Where Do We Go From Here?
- Educate teachers
- Integrate concepts from Social Justice 12 into the entire curriculum, from pre-school to university
- Encourage and incorporate more positive role models in educational roles
- Fulfill quotas of gender variant and sexual minorities within educational roles
When I was in high school, our student body president transitioned from male to female. We had a counsellor from Delisle Youth Services present within the school who appeared (from what I can remember), to aid in any way they could. I do remember, however, observing that pretty much everyone was comfortable with the situation (not that the student body’s comfort should be a priority or focus). I think that experience speaks a lot about the openness of young people to topics, experiences, and identities that the adults, who control the development of school curriculums, could learn a thing or two from.