By Reg Krake, ARC Foundation executive director
Recent media images have reignited conversations about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) in our schools.
First, a video of two girls punching and kicking a smaller teen curled on the ground, who identifies as transgender, horrified many people.
Then images of hundreds of muddy SUVs and family cars decked out in the LGBTQ2S+ and trans flags, pink decorations streaming in the breeze, showed huge support for the assaulted teen.
This heart-warming display shows progress has been made, but more is needed before all kids are safe.
Gender identity and expression were added to the B.C. Human Rights Code as prohibited grounds of discrimination in July 2016, mandating protection of LGBTQ2S+ students from harassment and bullying.
The B.C. Ministry of Education has long been a national, even global, leader in protecting the safety of all students and building SOGI-inclusive education. All B.C. school districts and independent schools are required to include specific references to SOGI in their anti-bullying policies and encouraged to incorporate SOGI-inclusive language and representation into education.
That all schools should be inclusive places where students of all sexual orientations and gender identities feel safe, respected and welcome underpins the work of ARC Foundation. Formed in 2008, ARC works with a broad range of provincial education partners to ensure all students feel safe, see themselves in the world around them, and are free to live their best possible authentic lives through the SOGI 123 program, a collaboration of 12 provincial education organizations*, including the Ministry of Education, BC Teachers Federation and BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils.
LGBTQ2S+ kids still face daunting conditions in our schools: 64 per cent of LGBTQ2S+ students feel unsafe at school and face three times the rate of discrimination experienced by heterosexual students. Sixty-eight per cent of trans students, 55 per cent of lesbian/bi students and 42 per cent of gay/bi students report being verbally harassed about their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
This bullying has profound effects: LGBTQ2S+ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide and if they have been rejected by their families, that rises to over eight times. The effects on mental health can last decades, hampering their potential to become confident, successful and contributing members of their communities. Supporting youth is critical to their school years and their long-term health and success in society.
SOGI 123 works to improve all kids’ lives through three interlocking strategies that help schools align with provincial policies and support educators to deliver on B.C.’s mandate for SOGI inclusive education.
SOGI 1 refers to SOGI-inclusive policies and procedures that explicitly reference SOGI. These have been proven to reduce discrimination, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts for all students.
Effective policies are not enough on their own. SOGI 2 involves every part of the education system to create inclusive environments. When successfully integrated, inclusive operations, language, and practices create positive and welcoming environments for all students.
SOGI 3 represents teaching resources developed by educators for educators. Not curriculum per se, these are ready-to-use, grade-appropriate SOGI-inclusive lesson plans, videos, training, approved book lists and other resources, aligned with government curriculum, that teachers can adapt to meet their classrooms needs.
Progress, colourfully demonstrated by the public’s car rally, is happening. All 60 B.C. school districts have implemented SOGI 123 efforts. Barriers to implementing SOGI-inclusive education, like a lack of training and/or resources or a lack of knowledge about how to integrate SOGI into the curriculum, have decreased by 10 to 15 per cent since 2017. From 2018 to 2019, 60 to 70 per cent of educators who still think these are challenges feel the barriers have decreased. The number of gay-straight alliance clubs (GSAs) has increased, particularly at the elementary level. GSAs that provide age-appropriate support are key to creating SOGI-inclusive schools.
Despite these successes, the Mission assault shows there is more to do. We need to continue SOGI-inclusive education through training and resources, ongoing facilitation of peer-to-peer networks and support for educators. We need to expand SOGI 123 support in independent schools, co-develop culturally appropriate resources with First Nations schools, and work to incorporate SOGI-inclusive education into schools across Canada. This requires continuing investment from the Ministry of Education, private donors and corporate partners.
We take heart in the public’s support for the trans teen that was assaulted, but we cannot unsee that assault. We cannot stop our work to improve the lives of all the kids in our schools. We have come a long way, but the assault video shows – with alarming clarity – there is still more work to do.
Reg Krake (he/him/his) is the executive director of ARC Foundation. He has held senior leadership roles with the Vancouver Airport Authority, Tourism British Columbia and Intrawest. Early in his career, he worked as a French Immersion teacher and has an unwavering passion for, and commitment to, education and inclusivity.
*Education organizations supporting SOGI 1 2 3 in BC: BC Ministry of Education, BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC), BC Principals and Vice Principals Association (BCPVPA), BC School Superintendents Association (BCSSA), BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA), Federation of Independent Schools Association (FISA), First Nations Schools Association (FNSA), First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), BC Association of School Business Officials (BCASBO), and ARC Foundation.
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