There is no question that sexual orientation and gender expression has become one of the most prominent social issues of the decade. The struggles of those who don’t fit into traditionally accepted gender roles can be overwhelming at best. Much of their struggles stem from negative and critically held beliefs in this area. Public understanding and acceptance is still in need of reform and evolution. Pervasive myth, fear and a general lack of understanding continue to hamper efforts to love and embrace all on the basis of character rather than how one chooses to identify as.
This reality is evidenced by feedback I myself received from stakeholders. Sadly, some of the commentary I received was so over the top, so full of bias and hate that I questioned my own safety at times. I can only imagine that if people could go to such lengths to articulate such hate and ignorance towards me for supporting standalone Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policy, then how far they would go to express similar viewpoints with those who do not conform to their view of the world.
I was dismayed to see individuals and groups using platforms that I saw as exaggerating the intent of the government’s guidelines; guidelines solely designed to support vulnerable children and youth. Clearly, this extreme rhetoric has done nothing to help support our transgender community. Transgender youth need community dialogue that is fact based conversations rather than preposterous, melodramatic composition. Not only has such commentary hurt so many, it has been counterproductive in creating a more tolerant and informed society. Playing on fear is an attempt, at best, to accelerate ones agenda; an agenda lacking a foundation of fact and rational thought.
Education is knowledge and the road to compassion and understanding. Undoubtedly, more education is needed as it pertains to understanding sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as it relates to our transgender community. Along these lines, I am glad that the issue has been brought to the forefront by government as it has led to much needed debate and conversation. Although societies tend to evolve slowly, it is only through dialogue that we create a knowledge base and begin to drive positive change that will challenge fears and the existence of pervasive myth.
They say it takes a village to raise a child and I would argue that it takes a team to support our most vulnerable students. A recent study by the ATA highlights that a majority of teachers feel that they lack the necessary education to fully understand the needs of our LGBTQ students. I am overjoyed to hear that our ATA is taking steps to address the concerns noted by their members in relation to needs of our LGBTQ students. Research suggests that in order to support students, staff require similar support. To this end our ATA local has started a GSA for its members. Our administration has hired staff to deliver diversity training, to support the formation of student groups and to provide other services to support students. We are moving in the right direction.
I want to relay that as the board worked through this inclusive policy, GP #14, it was done through a lens that focused predominately on issues relevant to our transgender community. In terms of an inclusive policy, I believe it is a good one but it is by no means sufficient, in my opinion, as a replacement for standalone policy. Also, my concerns presented previously on this issue continue to exist; that being the challenges that arise when we try to be all things to all students. Simply put, this is not always possible or realistic. Given this, then what do we do? It is my position that we must support those who are in greatest need. Equitable must preside over equal. To this end, we must do all that we can to support those members of our LGBTQ community, particularly in relation to sexual orientation and gender expression as they are a highly vulnerable group. One need not look too far to view statistical evidence to support the harsh reality for those who fall outside the norm in relation to sexual identity and expression. In a recent study by the City of Edmonton, 50% of Edmonton’s homeless youth are LGBTQ. Additional research suggests that suicide is as high as 57% for individuals in the transgender community.
It is my opinion that:
Given the vulnerability of our transgender youth, given that inclusive policy cannot serve two opposing positions at any given time, given that inclusive policies are proven less effective at reducing bullying for LGBTQ students, given that this policy does not, in absolute terms, adhere to the full intent of the government’s guidelines, given that it does not provide teachers with clear, consistent direction and hence protection, given it does not guarantee the fullest measure of protection and privacy for our transgender youth and given that this is intended to replace a standalone policy that could address all the afore mentioned shortcomings… I will vote against this motion.