After an announcement by the Minister of Education in 2016, all British Columbian boards of education and independent school authorities are to reference sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in district and school codes of conduct.
Functionally, the SOGI policy requires that schools provide information, resources, and support relevant to the sexual orientations and gender identities of their students. This can include direct information delivered from staff to students, referral to community supports and resources, or using classroom material that destigmatizes and normalizes conversations around gender identity and sexual orientation. It can also look like schools engaging in training and capacity-building with staff to adapt practices and language, as our local school district did by partnering with Ambit.
However, there have been some misunderstandings about SOGI that have created some ~interesting~ dialogue, both in schools and in the media. For those of you who have found yourselves being challenged by opposing views on SOGI, we hope this article will help you feel more equipped to address common misconceptions about the policy. A million thanks to Kelli Kraft (above), an amazing teacher and community advocate who helped to create this guide.
Common SOGI Myths
“SOGI indoctrinates/brainwashes students to unnecessarily challenge gender. We’re not even allowed to say ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ anymore?!”
This statement comes from an assumption that SOGI exists to erase gender. In truth, SOGI is a celebration of gender and the different ways that can manifest. We are expanding what it can mean to be a boy, or a girl, or neither, or both! SOGI encourages students to think about gender in new ways, instead of limiting or preventing them from embracing their own gender – whatever that may be.
SOGI does not tell young boys not to be strong and providing, or young girls not to be caring and nurturing. It encourages students to consider how people of all genders can fill these roles, and be uplifted and empowered to express themselves in many other ways!
“SOGI is not age-appropriate! I don’t want teachers to discuss sex with my [x]-year old child!”
SOGI and the accompanying tools and resources have been developed with community members, parents, and teachers in a way that is relevant and useful for children of all ages. For young children, it may look like an acknowledgement of different family structures, or ways that children can be creative and expressive in their gender. For teenagers, it may include pertinent sexual information that was previously largely or entirely absent from sex ed curricula (putting LGBTQ2+ students at greater risk).
SOGI is inclusive of an array of resources and information to help children and youth develop competency around gender and sexuality at all ages and at all stages of development.
“SOGI is an infringement of parental rights, and exposes children to teachings that parents do not want them to hear.”
This statement is a loaded one, and one that looks very different now than it might have ten years ago, or even a few months ago. The fact of the matter is that LGBTQ2+ realities and identities are being discussed more commonly and expansively, and are increasingly a part of everyday conversation.
The strength of SOGI is that teachers are able to provide resources and information around gender via formats that are regulated and approved at multiple levels and by multiple contributors. The information being shared with students is developed alongside educators and community experts, and is tailored to meet students where they are at in terms of their own growth and development.
This means that students are able to talk about LGBTQ2+ issues in a way that is fact-based and supportive, as opposed to collecting information from various unregulated sources that may not be well-informed, accurate, or safe. Students are then able to apply this information to their own experience if it fits for them. If it’s not directly relevant to their own experience, they develop the tools and language to positively engage with LGBTQ2+ students and families to help actively create safer school communities.
“This is an ideology that has no place in classrooms”
There appears to be a misconception that SOGI is a curriculum that is being forcibly inserted into classroom materials. In reality, and as noted above, SOGI is an expectation that schools are able to provide relevant supports and information to LGBTQ2+ students. Part of this is creating a culture of inclusivity and promoting understanding through language and practice. A teacher may split their class into groups based on birthdays rather than by gender, or invite students of all genders to share their pronouns on the first day of school.
The SOGI website does include some ideas for lessons and classroom activities that are able to be used at the individual discretion of teachers. It is not an arbitrary “shoe-horning” of LGBTQ2+ topics into the classroom for no reason. On the contrary, it is an opportunity for classes to work together to find ways to be inclusive of students of all genders and sexualities. To this end, LGBTQ2+ teachers, staff, and family members of students are also able to see themselves reflected in the classroom environment.
Also, let’s remember just take a moment to remember that we *have* been teaching about orientation and gender for decades. Well, one orientation. And one gender…
It’s time to diversify, and acknowledge all of the people (indigenous people, women, queer and trans folks, people of colour,…) who have made incredible contributions to all realms of life. By offering students an accurate portrayal of history, we open up so many more possibilities for the future.
“What if my child decides they are trans because of SOGI and later changes their mind?”
If a young person feels empowered to express a new part of themself, such as a different name, pronoun, or manner of dress, that is a reflection of the comfort and support they feel from their community. It can be stressful and intimidating to publicly identify oneself in these ways, and it requires support from friends, family, and community members. If your child shares with you about their explorations of gender, it shows that they trust you and are hopeful that you will be accepting and encouraging. Continuing to support them through changes and development shows that you want them to be courageous in how they express themself, and that they can trust you to stand by them as they figure things out.
That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
SOGI and other similar initiatives rely on the support of community to create spaces for children to be expressive, inquisitive, and curious. Though there has recently been some pushback against the policy from a select few in the media, those of us who are LGBTQ2+ adults who went through school without such policies in place – and miraculously still managed to be who we are without ever having role models or seeing our experiences reflected in the classroom – look at it as an exciting opportunity for young people to recognize themselves in ways that were not available to many of us as children. Now, we have the opportunity to give students the tools to be assured and confident in who they are, and to be allies to one another. We are very grateful for everyone who has been steadfast in creating safety and love for LGBTQ2+ students in their schools and community.
***Thank you again to Kelli Kraft, whose perceptivity, patience, and ferocity of love for her students made this article possible.***