There’s no denying that schools are powerful places. They are where most of us spend our entire childhood and adolescence, and often play host to our first experiences with success/failure, acceptance/rejection, and making friends/enemies. Institutions like schools reflect the values of the society they operate within, and so can be sites of marginalization and exclusion for certain populations, and/or sites of consciousness raising and resistance. As the school year approaches, students, families and staff can expect to have some combination of excitement and concern. However, those from LGBTQ2SI+ communities might tend towards the latter. With new classrooms, teachers, schoolmates and families in the mix, and for some, new schools, new workplaces, new names or pronouns, as well as changing school policies and curriculum, our minds might be working overtime.
As LGBTQ2SI+ folks in schools, will we:
… have our identities affirmed or denied?
…be protected from daily or weekly harassment?
…have our pronouns respected?
…have access to appropriate washrooms?
…see ourselves reflected in the curriculum?
…be able to safely come out at work?
…have support in covering content related to gender and sexuality?
No one can answer these questions for certain, since the climate of every school is so different. Even within the same province, services, supports and practices vary widely between cities and school boards. Some Catholic school boards in Ontario celebrate gay-straight alliances, while other boards reject LGBTQ inclusive policy or object to trans-friendly content. Meanwhile, Toronto’s Triangle Program is certainly the envy of many queer and trans students and educators, though some argue that even Toronto has a long way to go in terms of institutional and administrative support for LGBTQ2SI+ communities. Here in Hamilton, queer, trans and gender-nonconforming students have a mixed bag of opportunities. Most high schools in the public board have Positive Space Groups, and there are annual events like Rainbow Prom and conference called the Day of Difference.
Important for the coming year, the HWDSB’s policy on LGBTQS2I+ issues (currently and oddly called the “Sexual Orientation Procedure”) is up for review in March 2018. This may present an opportunity for the community to advocate for stronger language, policies and practices to make sure that the school board reflects and responds to the sexual and gender diversity of students, staff and families. In particular, on the heels of Ontario’s recently passed transgender rights legislation, it is timely that schools (which fall under provincial jurisdiction) reconsider how they protect and affirm the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming students, staff and families. At the local level, Hamilton’s own transgender protocol might be a further source of fuel and inspiration on this front.
Moving into the new school year and a time of policy review, we might begin to brainstorm: What kinds of changes do we want to see in school policies and practices? What would allow our schools to affirm the reality of sexual and gender diversity? How do we want to be reflected and respected in board policy? How can schools support LGBTQ2SI+ students, staff and families, who may also be marginalized in multiple ways (e.g. by class, race, immigration status, religion, or ability)?
As the summer winds down, it’s time to hit the books and put on our thinking caps.