New Brunswick: Shame on you and your policy 713, part two | Marvin Zuker

By Marvin Zuker

Law360 Canada (August 9, 2023, 10:16 AM EDT) --
Marvin Zuker
Marvin Zuker
New Brunswick’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development new version of their policy on sexual orientation and gender identity, policy 713 is not about protecting children.

If this were about protecting children, instead of putting LGBTQ youth at risk, the government would actually care these young peoples’ safety and well-being, including the youth suicide crisis. This is literally a matter of life and death. These attacks on public education make policy 713 does not create the welcoming, safe environment that our children need and deserve.

A recent University of Calgary study (2023) found that youth suicide attempts increased 22 per cent during the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in three teen girls seriously considered suicide in 2021 — up nearly 60 per cent from a decade ago. More than 42 per cent of high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

The Calgary report found that “school connectedness, defined as feeling close to people at school, has a long-lasting, protective impact for adolescents well into adulthood.”

Fear and division, or hope and opportunity. Take your choice.   

What students want teachers to know about supporting 2SLGBTQ people

Among 2SLGBTQ participants, they wanted their teachers to:

• Understand why silence around 2SLGBTQ topics is harmful (trans 80 per cent and cisgender LGBQ 78 per cent).

• Avoid making assumptions about students’ gender and/or sexuality (trans 81 per cent and cisgender LGBQ 76 per cent).

• Learn how to address gender neutral pronoun options (trans 81 per cent and cisgender LGBQ 71 per cent).

• Include 2SLGBTQ people in classroom examples (trans 79 per cent and cisgender LGBQ 75 per cent).

• Become more informed about trans people’s experiences (trans 79 per cent and cisgender LGBQ 70 per cent).

• Recognize the importance of supportive teachers and school staff (trans 75 per cent and cisgender LGBQ 69 per cent).

• Respect the individuality and experiences of 2SLGBTQ students (i.e., avoid tokenizing 2SLGBTQ experiences/students) (trans 74 per cent and cisgender LGBQ 68 per cent).

• Acknowledge the specific barriers that 2SLGBTQ students face (trans 73 per cent and cisgender LGBQ 69 per cent).

• Appreciate the importance of “out” 2SLGBTQ teachers and school staff (trans 74 per cent and cisgender LGBQ 68 per cent).

• Better support 2SLGBTQ students in parent/guardian interactions (trans 72 per cent and cisgender LGBQ 66 per cent).

• Learn language about specific 2SLGBTQ identities (trans 68 per cent and cisgender LGBQ 61 per cent).

• Understand that students want to have more of a voice in how to make school better for 2SLGBTQ students and/or topics (trans 68 per cent and cisgender LGBQ 59 per cent). (Statistics as reported in Still in every class in every school: Final report on the second climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools, Peter, T., Campbell, C.P., & Taylor, C. (2021))  

Policy 713 creates a “school climate governed by a deleterious discourse system toxic to the wellbeing of 2SLGBTQ students, who regard their schools as unsafe, experience various forms of harassment, are less attached, are more likely to skip school because they do not feel safe, feel isolated and alone, are less connected to their schools, and far too often, are languishing in their mental health and wellbeing.” (Peter, Campbell & Taylor, 2021, pp 132)

As Foucault argues, “where there is power, there is resistance.”

Students need to know they have the support of their teachers. Teachers need to know they have the support of their school administrators. School administrators need to know they have the support of their school district and school boards. School districts and school boards need to know they have support from their Ministries of Education.

Leadership must start at the top. Very simply, schools must have the ability to protect the privacy of transgender students who have shared their identity with school staff. We all, Mr. Premier, have a responsibility to create safe and inclusive educational environments where every student feels respected, accepted and free to be their authentic selves.

We will then create an atmosphere where all students can thrive academically and emotionally. Requiring schools to share information about students’ gender identity with parents against students’ wishes will cause a number of harms, including undermining the trust between students and teachers, creating impracticable administrative burdens for schools and improperly inserting school officials into private conversations that should be within the realm of the family.

According to research published by the Trevor Project, LGBTQIA+ youth who report the presence of trusted adults in their school have higher self-esteem than those without access to a trusted adult, including among those who lack support from their family.

Furthermore, LGBTQIA+ youth who found their school and home to be affirming reported lower rates of attempting suicide. Not all students are open about their gender identity at home. Where a student does not want the school to disclose their status to others, including parents, information on the student’s gender identity should not be shared. This would keep transgender students supported and safe at school, while providing students space and support to initiate these conversations about their identities within their own families.

Anything else undermines trust between students and teachers, creates significant administrative burdens, and improperly inserts school officials into private conversations that should happen between children and their parents at the time and in the manner chosen by the family. Safe and supportive school environments are critically important for all students — and for transgender and gender-nonconforming students in particular.
This is the second instalment of an eight-part series. Part one: New Brunswick: Shame on you and your policy 713.

Marvin Zuker was a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, where he presided over the small claims, family and criminal courts from 1978 until his retirement in 2016. He is a professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, where he has been teaching education law for 42 years. Zuker is the author and co-author of many books and publications, including The Law is Not for Women and The Law is (Not) for Kids.

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