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I have two sons.
One is practicing in the field of law. One is a Mechanical Engineer.
One loves hockey. One loves cars.
One has blonde hair. One has red hair.
One is straight. One is gay.
I had the opportunity to attend #tedxedmonton this last weekend, and I did get a wake-up call - and a call to action. That is what this blog is really about.
Speaker Kristopher Wells, researcher at the University of Alberta in the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services, spoke about the laws around homosexuality, growing up in the 1970's as a gay male, the appearance of Aids in the 1980's - and support that did not - and does not - exist for young people who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) in our schools.
He talked about Matthew Shepard - (December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998). I had heard of Matthew Shepard, but there are so many tragic stories. . .
There has been a shift. My son will not have to endure the same level of misunderstanding and hatred that Kristopher Wells has seen. Kristopher Wells said there is a shift . . . but it's the young people that are leading it. Education - and teachers - have abdicated their responsibility to this group of young people.
That hit me . . . like a brick. I have always thought of myself as an advocate for my sons - and all young people, actually. What had I not done? What was I missing? How do you support children that may be LGBTQ kids without labeling them? How do you support children without having what would be considered inappropriate conversations with them? This is not a visible group of children - I don't even know who they are.
And then it came to me. . . perhaps Education - and teachers - have simply failed these kids because they, like me, really don't know exactly what to do - confidently. . .
I want to start the conversation - and be part of the continuing conversation - about what to do to really advocate for kids in the LGBTQ community. Here goes - only a start -
IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
We unintentionally set kids up to be the target of 'bullying' when we reinforce gender stereotypes. It's that simple - and that complex.
STOP reminding kids all day long, many times a day, that they are either a girl or a boy. STOP having the girls 'line up first' and the boys 'line up second'. STOP sorting kids by gender.
DO remind kids all day long that people like lots of different things. DO value their interests and encourage them to experience a variety of activities - in school and out of school. DO encourage them to seek out others with shared interests.
STOP making assumptions about kids based on their gender. "There will be hockey (or soccer) for the boys at recess." "We need to have lots of dinosaur books in the library because the boys really like those." Lots of kids do really enjoy learning about dinosaurs. . . and other such stuff. "Girls will wear their prettiest dresses for the concert. I can't wait to see how pretty they all look!"
DO include all of the kids in invitations to participate - in activities in the classroom, activities on the playground, in sharing what they really enjoy doing. Ensure that all kids that want to participate - do.
Most of all, DO REFLECT on the classroom routines and procedures that have hidden bias in them. Do make changes based on what you see.
I know this only the 'tip of the iceberg', but it's a starting place. It's a place where we can make a difference.
MIDDLE SCHOOL and HIGH SCHOOL
See Elementary School. . . and. . .
Deal with inappropriate language when you hear it. The off-hand comment, "That's so gay" is really offensive. Sexual orientation is what it refers to - and the Human Rights code applies here. Middle School students who use inappropriate language need to know that the Human Rights code exists. They need to know why they should not use off-hand comments. They need to know what the law says.
Thank you, Kristopher Wells, for the reminder that we have a responsibility to the kids who are in our care at school - all of the kids that are in our care at school.
Thank you for the work you do to support them through 'Camp fYrefly' and also by increasing awareness of the casual use of inappropriate language through your website.
For more information about the number of times people on social media use casual and hateful homophobic language, see http://www.nohomophobes.com
For more information about supportive summer camp opportunities for youth that build resiliency, see