UPDATE: Monday, May 27
Members of Manitoba’s teachers union voted “overwhelmingly in favour” of a resolution to push for queer-inclusive curriculum in every school district in the province.
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), which has a membership of 15,000, passed the resolution during its annual general meeting, held May 23 to 25.
The union’s president, Paul Olson, estimates that roughly 90 percent of the nearly 300 educators who attended the meeting supported the resolution.
“I feel great. It’s one thing to know that your members are talking about the resolution, and it’s something very different to be sitting in a room and watching nearly 300 hands go up,” he says.
“I feel it was a very important decision,” he continues. “I’m very proud to serve a group that fights for the right of inclusive education.”
MTS leaders will now call on Education Minister Nancy Allan to ensure that queer lives are reflected in classrooms across the province.
The union says it will also continue to support Bill 18, which, if passed, will address homophobia and other forms of harassment, foster a more inclusive school environment, and support students who want to form gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and other equity-encouraging groups.
Olson says adding queer themes to the province’s curriculum is necessary for queer youth and students with gay parents to feel included in school.
As a queer student coming out, “you may not be in a family or community that will give you that kind of inclusion,” Olson says. “That’s why it’s important to have this kind of curriculum in schools.”
It’s “about aligning our [teaching] practice with reality,” he says.
Olson is hopeful that Allan will support the teachers’ curriculum resolution.
Allan was unavailable for a phone interview with Xtra but sent an email statement. “My education priorities right now are passing Bill 18 through the Legislature and improving education quality,” she says.
“I introduced Bill 18 because my cabinet and caucus colleagues and I believe every student should feel safe in their classroom. Unfortunately, for some, homophobia is still an accepted form of discrimination and this legislation helps give students access to safe spaces where they can be who they are,” she continues.
As for reviewing the curriculum with an eye to including more queer representation, Allan says the ministry has other priorities.
She says the ministry is currently focusing on improving the math, language arts, and science curricula. “Students across Manitoba are learning in brand new science labs because of infrastructure investments made by the provincial government,” she says.
Still, she says, she will meet with MTS members.
“I am always talking to education partners about their priorities and will be discussing this [resolution] and a number of other of MTS’s priorities with them in the near future,” she says.
“We’re dealing with a lot of gender and sexuality minority issues in schools,” says Paul Olson, president of the union representing Manitoba’s 15,000 public school teachers.
“It’s not unique to us and our school district,” he adds.
The resolution, which the board will present to members attending the MTS’s annual general meeting, May 23 to 25, will call on Manitoba’s Education Ministry to ensure that same-sex families, queer people and themes are reflected in classrooms across the province.
If passed, the resolution would further lobby the government for amendments to safe school legislation to specifically address homophobia and violence prevention in their charters, codes of conduct and action plans with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The resolution follows Manitoba Education Minister Nancy Allan’s introduction in December of a Safe and Inclusive Schools bill to amend the Public Schools Act. If passed, Bill 18 would foster a more inclusive school environment that would respect “human diversity”; support students who want to form gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and other equity-encouraging groups; and address cyber- and other forms of bullying.
The bill would apply to any school receiving public money. It faces opposition from some religious groups, including residents of the largely Mennonite town of Steinbach in southeast Manitoba, as well as the province’s Progressive Conservative MLAs.
The bill still needs to pass second reading, be examined in committee hearings, pass third reading and obtain royal assent before it can become law. If passed, it could be implemented in time for students’ return to school this fall.
Allan was unavailable for comment, but spokesperson Naline Rampersad says the ministry considers it a priority to make schools “safe and inclusive for all students.”
“Bill 18 requires schools to have diversity policies and to accommodate students who want to form GSAs,” she says. “We know that GSAs make schools safer and more accepting. That’s why we support students who want to form GSAs and other student groups that prevent bullying in schools.
“Sexual orientation and human diversity are currently covered in our curriculum,” she notes. “We will await the result of the MTS AGM to see which resolutions are carried by MTS members.”
If the 290 teachers attending the AGM pass the resolution, Olson says, the MTS will request a meeting with the minister to discuss ways in which queer-focused resources, themes and curriculum can be implemented in schools.
“We have very active groups in the gay alliances and the teachers’ society community that are working hard in the social justice issues of our society,” he says.
But more must be done, he insists. “What kids are learning in school should reflect society.”
The vice-president of the BC Teachers’ Federation applauds the MTS proposal.
“It’s really good,” Glen Hansman says. “But it’s not sufficient here in this province.”
Hansman says students, teachers and some school board trustees in BC have been trying for years to convince the government to mandate a more queer-inclusive curriculum.
“The curriculum is being reviewed right now,” Hansman says. “All of it.”
But while the government is looking at ways to implement more aboriginal-focused content in the BC curriculum, he says, it hasn’t addressed how or if it will specifically tackle homophobia and transphobia in schools or made plans to include more queer-specific themes in its curriculum.
Queer safety and content are also important and need to be addressed, he says. “I think we’ll get there eventually, but it’s not fast enough.”
“There was a plan from the NDP, but the Liberal government has preferred to speak broadly about the subject of bullying,” he says. “The problem with this is that it does not address specific forms of harassment and bullying.”
The BC NDP’s campaign platform promised to introduce a provincewide standard for school codes of conduct to ensure that policies exist to effectively address homophobia and transphobia.
The BC Liberals have yet to introduce a specific policy to target homophobia in schools. But they did launch the ERASE (Expect Respect and a Safe Education) Bullying strategy in 2012, which promised to ensure that every child feels safe, accepted and respected, regardless of gender, race, culture, religion or sexual orientation.
When asked in February what, if any, strategies will be put in place to directly tackle homophobia and transphobia in schools, Clark balked.
“We have a provincewide policy that bullying of any kind is wrong, whether that’s based on sexual orientation, culture, religion, race, anything. It is all wrong, it’s all harmful, and none of it should ever happen,” Clark said at an event to mark anti-bullying day.
“If it’s all unacceptable, it’s all unacceptable,” she replied when asked whether her government’s ERASE Bullying measure provides schools with tools that will specifically address homophobia and transphobia. “I think that’s the better, tighter way to go about it.”