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New education resource tackles gender

Time to break the silence about this issue: Breakspear

The Gender Spectrum, an education resource produced by the BC Teachers' Federation and Pride in Education Network, debunks myths about gender and explores ways of creating an inclusive school culture. Credit: Xtra staff photo

Gay activists are praising a new handbook for teachers aimed at addressing issues of gender and self in the BC school system.

The BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and the Pride in Education Network (PEN) collaborated to produce the document, which debunks myths about gender and explores ways of creating an inclusive school culture from kindergarten through Grade 12.

Ideas for thinking outside the gender binary, language dos and don’ts, and classroom strategies, including lesson plans, are among the topics raised in the handbook. “When students don’t conform to traditional gender expectations they are often subject to exclusion, bullying, harassment and assault,” the handbook states. “Significantly, the taunts faced by gender-non-conforming youth often take the form of homophobic name-calling, regardless of the victim’s actual sexual orientation.”

Kindergarten teacher Jessica Campbell says she sees gender stereotypes in children as young as four or five years old, but if teachers appeal to youngsters’ innate sense of fairness, they learn readily. That awareness needs to be carried over into high school years where pressure to conform can be great, she adds.

The handbook, which will be used in conjunction with conference and school workshops on gender stereotypes, is available on the BCTF website.

Trans Alliance Society (TAS) chair Marie Little applauds the book’s creation. “It seems to include most information as a trans person and advocate I would like to see included,” she says. “Most of the stuff seems to be directed toward primary schools, which is all to the good.”

It’s also important to address the issue in high schools, she adds. “It should have been done long ago.” What’s missing, she says, is the idea of having trans people go into schools to speak with students — something she’s willing to take on.

Qmunity executive director Jennifer Breakspear says the handbook “looks like one of the first definitive resources I’ve seen that steps into discussions of gender and how a school can speak about gender.”

She says it’s an issue that people have been silent about for too long. “The school system was for too long silent around sexual orientation; those discussions have begun. Now it’s time for discussions to start around gender,” she says.

Breakspear would like to see the education ministry adopt the handbook. “If the ministry says, ‘Read this, use this,’ it’s going to move to the top of the reading list,” she says.