How do we define gender today? Well, there exists a wide variety of genders beyond the boy/man – girl/woman binary. And even though here in Canada great strides have been made to uphold the rights of those who experience, for example, feelings of attraction in all its forms beyond the heterosexual, those strides have yet to be made where gender identity and gender expression are concerned.

This is why the Canadian Teachers’ Federation’s (CTF/FCE) new resource, Affirming Gender Diversity, the latest in the series of Student Voice booklets, is so important. Not only does the booklet support teachers in raising awareness and addressing questions from students around the diversity of gender, as well as social concepts such as cisnormativity, cissexism and transphobia, it does so through the students’ own experiences.

Past President CTF/FCE Shelley Morse felt strongly about creating a booklet on gender diversity.

“When I became chair of the CTF/FCE Advisory Committee on Diversity and Human Rights, I felt this topic would fill a much-needed gap in our classrooms,” says Morse. “The work just took off from there.”

As a program officer with responsibilities for the CTF/FCE Social Justice Program, Wes Delve thought he already knew quite a bit about the issues, but quickly recognized that his initial expectations were but an inkling of what awaited him.

He came to discover that he understood very little about the topic, and the realization was disconcerting and humbling. On a deeper level still, and even more disturbing, lay the harsh realities and the painful, daily truths lived by gender diverse people in Canada, a country renowned for its equitable treatment of all citizens. As he learned more about these truths, Wes was disheartened and somewhat embarrassed.

When he began reading the submissions received from Canadian students, in response to the focus questions the CTF/FCE developed and which had been implemented by volunteer teachers in their classrooms, Wes was buoyed by the candour, the energy, the knowledge and the wisdom they contained.

Voices of Students Form Content

“Truth be told, I teared up several times, and enthusiastically shared occasional gems with others involved in the project,” he explains. “I came to realize that this generation of Canadian students is not only blessed with insights which far surpass what I understood when I was their age, but it is well equipped and ready to fight against the discrimination it sees in the world around them.”

The voices of students form the content from which lesson plans were developed. And those lesson plans are essential to bringing the content alive in the classroom. They help teachers encourage students to discuss important issues, to challenge the status quo societal response, and to take action to increase awareness among the school population and the local community.

“With a lesson plan in hand,” Morse indicates, “our members are supported to tackle the issue of affirming gender diversity without having to start from scratch. At the same time, the lesson plans offer a starting point from which educators can easily adapt the material to the needs of their students.”

Affirming Gender Diversity, developed by educators for educators—including MTS Provincial Executive member-at-large Catherine Hart—provides multiple entry points to facilitate work with students. The Advisory Committee on Diversity and Human Rights, of which Catherine was a part, played a crucial role in bringing the classroom teacher perspective to the work.

“It was such a privilege to collaborate with people who bring a wealth of experience and perspectives on identity and intersectionality,” says Hart. “Affirming Gender Diversity shows students’ experiences and understanding around gender and sexuality in their own words, across grade levels. It’s a great starting point for discussion with students, but also with adults as we reflect on the changes needed in our policies and practices.”

Wes is grateful to have been immersed in the creation of the booklet and for the many individuals who accompanied him on the journey. “I am happier still that we released this booklet on July 14, 2021, the International Non-Binary People’s Day, and that this new resource was in Canadian classrooms in time for Canada’s national Gender Equality Week, which takes place annually during the third full week of September.”

Students Speak Out, Inspire and Defend

This generation of students is indeed prepared to speak out, to inspire and to defend. And it is our job, as educators who have the privilege of teaching and learning alongside budding advocates for gender equality, to inspire them in return to foster safe environments for them to ask questions, engage in open and honest discussions, and encourage them to raise their voices to interrupt and challenge the injustices they encounter in the world around them.

Even now, a teaching and learning resource as rich as this does not begin to do justice to the suffering experienced by some of our most oppressed and marginalized people, or to the change that needs to happen when it comes to the acceptance and inclusion of gender diverse individuals.

It is hoped that this resource will rally all educators to engage in this work—work that is vital to including, valuing, and lifting up individuals of all genders in our society.

You can find Booklet #5: Affirming Gender Diversity, and its lesson plans at Initiatives – Imagineaction imagine-action.ca
or for more information contact: info@imagine-action.ca.

– Originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of the MB Teacher