Editorial: Myth-busting needed in LGBTQ debate

March 8, 2016
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

The ongoing firestorm surrounding the government’s Guidelines for Best Practices related to including LGBTQ students flared up again last week.

The group Parents for Choice sparked the most recent hotspot with its attempts at countering the guidelines through a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #protectABkids. Unfortunately, inexperience in social media caused the campaign to backfire as proponents of the guidelines hammered away at Parents for Choice and its advocates in the volatile medium.

I am a fan of civil discourse on social and political matters, and I think that Twitter has often provided a venue for interesting discussions to occur, so in that vein I applaud the efforts of these parents. I am, however, not a fan of blatant spreading of misinformation.

Unfortunately, this discussion has been full of misinformation. There has been so much misinformation about the guidelines that the Calgary Sexual Health Centre felt the need to launch the website understandingtheguidelines.ca to take on the myths.

There are 12 best practices included in the guidelines, and they are much less prescriptive than fearmongers make them out to be. The controversy comes from the examples included with the guidelines, but they are being misinterpreted. Let’s look at them:

Myth: Gender-based pronouns will no longer be used in schools.

Best practice: “Respecting an individual’s right to self-identification.” (p. 5)

Reality: Students who want to be identified with him or her, he or she will still be identified as such. But if a student doesn’t self-identify with a gender and asks to be referred to with zir or ze, this will be respected.

Myth: Schools must refrain from using the terms mother or father.

Best practice: “Ensuring all families are welcomed and supported as valued members of the school community.” (p. 13)

Reality: Students who have fathers will talk about their fathers; students who have mothers will use the term mother; but forms, letters and communications will not presume that each student has a father and a mother and will therefore use non-gendered inclusive terms like parents or guardians.

Myth: Girls’ sports teams will be overrun by boys who choose to play on the girls’ teams.

Best practices: “Minimizing gender-segregated activities.” (p. 7)

“Enabling students with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions to have full, safe and equitable participation in curricular and extra-curricular ­activities.” (p. 8)

Reality: Self-identifying as trans or gender diverse is not done on a whim and typically requires considerable reflection and great courage. Students will face a series of choices about how to express their gender and can do so in consultation with supportive staff. Students will not be allowed to simply “game” the system. It should be noted that the Alberta Schools’ Athletics Association already allows for this in its policy handbook.

Myth: Girls will be vulnerable to violence in bathrooms as boys wander freely within.

Best practice: “Providing safe access to washroom and change-room facilities.” (p. 9)

Reality: Again, students aren’t capriciously self-identifying as trans or gender diverse to peep or prey on others, nor should they be allowed to. Bathrooms and change rooms are already some of the least safe parts of schools — especially for LGBTQ students. A placard that says Female at the door is not currently stopping those who want to bring harm to girls inside — only adequate supervision will. Serious and meaningful conversations about bathroom safety that stem from these guidelines will benefit all students.

Myth: Parental rights related to the education of their children are being curtailed.

Best practice: “Respecting an individual’s right to self-identification.” (p. 5)

Reality: Sexual and gender minority students have the right to decide if, when and how they will come out — including coming out to their parents. The Code of Professional Conduct and Bill 10 provide legal frameworks that prevent teachers from outing students — even to their parents. This is not an infringement of parents’ rights. If parents want to know about their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, then they should talk to their child.

So while we should welcome sensible, rational and civil discussion about these issues, we should not accept the misinformation that is currently ­accompanying the discussion.

Looking at the realities above, I’m quite confident that these guidelines and the policies they generate will result in little noticeable difference for most students and schools. Many, many teachers and schools are already using the best practices.

What will change, however, is the ways that our sexual and gender ­minority students feel about coming to school. And that will make all the difference. ❚

I welcome your comments—contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.