Greater Victoria School District Trustee Jordan Watters, with Wilder, one of her three children, encourages parents to “talk to kids about gender.” Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

Greater Victoria School District moves to support LGBTQ students

Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) resource to inform district curriculum

As part of its policy of inclusion, the Greater Victoria School District will be one of the first to begin training leaders under the SOGI123 curriculum, the online resource for LGBTQ-inclusive education.

SOGI, which stands for sexual orientation and gender identity – a term used in the BC Human Rights Code – will incorporate tools to support students, in the same way Indigenous ways of knowing have been woven into the district’s curriculum. The material, assembled from the work of educators over the past 20 or 30 years, isn’t new, says SD61 Trustee and mother of three, Jordan Watters.

“What is new is this provincial collective move forward on this,” she said, “that we’re going to prioritize this and resource this, rather than just a few teachers here and there having these conversations. There’s now an expectation, certainly in our district, that everyone has a certain level of understanding about these issues.”

Watters put a motion forward for SD61 to release a statement, timed to align with the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which falls annually on Nov. 20. In it, the district announced they will train faculty members to be SOGI leaders – a safe contact person who will be designated at each school across the district.

In the spring, SD61 will also host an evening to educate parents and community partners.

Watters says there are already GSA’s (gay-straight alliances, organized by students) throughout her district and in elementary schools, student-driven “rainbow clubs” are popping up due to growing interest for safe spaces. Last week Alberta passed Bill 24, legislating that students could form GSA’s without fear of being outed; those opposed to the bill wanted to make it legal for parents to be notified if their child joined a GSA.

Currently, 48 of the province’s 60 school districts have signed on to utilize SOGI123.

Last month, Chilliwack school board trustee Barry Neufeld publicly expressed his opposition to SOGI in a Facebook post and faced backlash for his homophobic and transphobic comments. The B.C. School Trustees Association, along with the Ministry of Education, B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, B.C. Teachers’ Federation and other education partners, released a joint statement to denounce Neufeld’s comments.

“It’s a pretty tremendous accomplishment in our province to have all the education partners speaking in unison and to react that quickly,” Watters said. “It was unified and without any hesitation, we know where we stand on this. That was a great day.”

RELATED: Education minister blasts Chilliwack school trustee on gender issues

SD61 board chair Edith Loring-Kuhanga said in a local release that the SOGI decision is part of a continuing effort to create a culture where all students are accepted, empowered and supported, regardless of their differences and challenges. “There are many students who are still afraid to share their experiences for fear of harassment, which can negatively impact their overall health and well-being,” she said.

“If you talk to any gender non-conforming or trans kid in our schools, they’re not going to tell you that everything is great,” Watters says. “We’re not creating SOGI123 and creating all these processes and supports because everything is great. We’re doing this because we’re trying to change culture.”

Not every child comes from a supportive family, Watters points out and although kids can learn quickly, “they swim in this patriarchal, heteronormative culture.”

The policy comes on the heels of the district’s first gender identity and expression policy, approved in 2016 with leadership from Watters. While that policy led to gender-neutral washrooms in each school across the district, she says it’s important to keep learning about gender in order to accommodate all students.

“To me, at base it’s about this commitment to creating a more just society and to me, justice depends on equity and equity depends on inclusion.”

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

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