This June, Peel District School board has raised the Pride Flag at every school for the first time. I didn’t realize the impact that the flying of the flag would have on me until I saw it every single day as I came into school. It gave me such a sense of joy and happiness that I was entering a building that explicitly and overtly demonstrated to my community that our building is a safe space for the 2SLGBTQ+ community!
It is so important that our students and their families see that flag flying high as our students who are queer are some of our most vulnerable students. Rates of suicide and self harm are alarming. It is paramount that our students feel that they attend a school that values them and promotes a climate of inclusiveness.
In addition to the flag, The Peel District School Board has taken some great steps in recent years to support teachers in providing safer spaces for the 2SLGBTQ+ population. We held our 2nd annual middle school GSA conference this year which is helping teachers bring Gay Straight Alliance Groups to middle schools all over Peel. I also cheered the day I read the following headline in the Toronto Star: “Peel Board Won’t Exempt Kids from Learning About Gay Families, Gender Issues” in 2015.
ETFO, in conjunction with many locals across the province, has been doing this work for many years and has so many fantastic resources and professional development opportunities for teachers. I attended the workshop called LGBTQ in the Primary Classroom this past year. We worked through a variety of scenarios focused on gender identity that many teachers are experiencing with their kindergarten and grade 1 students. Teachers in the workshop were committed to making their classroom a place where students can explore their identities. This included training on language used in the classroom, physical classroom environment and managing the challenging conversations with parents that regularly arise. We also reviewed Peel’s Gender Identity and Gender Expression Guidelines, which I appreciated. Every piece of policy helps support the conversations I need to have in order to provide a safer and inclusive environment for all of my students.
ETFO has created many resources including safe space posters that hang in our classrooms as a welcoming symbol to all and has provided us with training on how to start/facilitate and maneuver dialogues about inclusion. My safe space poster is beside my door. I regularly have students ask me about my safe space poster as we line up. I explain that this poster is to tell people that my classroom is a safer place for transgender, 2 spirit, lesbian, bisexual, queer and gay people. I have explained that to students between the ages of 6-11 regularly for the last 10 years. When you start teaching students about the idea of respect for all at a young age, it becomes part of the norms for our teaching space.
I hope everyone had a Happy PRIDE MONTH!!