Letter to the editor: Discussing the Regina Public School Board vote
Why 2SLGBTQIA+ people looked on in horror
By Suzanne Huggins
I was among the dozens of 2SLGBTQIA+ people who went to witness last week’s Regina Board of Education vote on whether to endorse celebrating Pride in schools. I was also among the dozens who cried and yelled when the trustees declined to make this statement in favour of their gender and sexually-diverse students and educators. Admittedly, the motion was largely symbolic. But symbols matter to people. These symbols matter to me.
I was raised jointly by my lesbian moms and by my supportive straight parents on the other side. When I attended Regina Public Schools in the 1980s and 1990s, our family encountered bullying from other students, bigotry from other parents, and a lack of understanding from too many of the teachers. My elementary school time was hell, not because of my lesbian moms but because of other people’s reaction to them.
I’m not just a survivor of homophobia levelled at my family decades ago. I’m also a genderqueer and bisexual parent to two current students in Regina Public Schools. There has been some progress in the education system over the past 20-30 years. The existence of diverse families is now included in the curriculum.
I know several out gay and/or trans educators. Gay-straight alliances (under a variety of names) are common. Yet I also know several queer teens who are not out to their families because they don’t know if it is safe to come out. Others have come out and have endured abuse or rejection as a result. Depression and suicide rates among queer youth are high, and the research says that it is because of the homophobia and transphobia they experience in their families, their schools, and in the wider world.
I want my kids to have better experiences than I did, because they, too, have a queer parent and they deserve to be safe and welcomed in their schools. I want queer or questioning kids to know that they are safe and loved in their schools. Flying a flag, joining a parade, hosting an info booth – these things matter because they are visible symbols of our belonging. Even more important is the ways that teachers show up for kids every day by incorporating inclusive language and ideas in their classrooms, listening to kids, and modeling loving behaviour in action.
Having the board endorse this motion could have helped school administrators when they make decisions about what to celebrate and recognize in each school. It could have been a statement for students to point to when advocating for greater recognition in their schools, and it could have showed that support goes all the way to the most senior ranks of their school system.
Instead, kids and families are left in limbo wondering whether there is actually is support at every level. In an environment where we see our queer siblings south of the border having their rights eroded, and where some elected representatives in other levels of government question our right to exist as ourselves, not explicitly saying “you belong here” is as good as saying “go away”.
The board trustees have suggested that this issue will continue to be discussed, and we may see it raised again. We must remain vigilant. If the Board later puts forward a policy, it will be important to pay attention to the fine print.
There is an opportunity to develop inclusive meaningful recognition, or to treat the topic as “too adult” (it isn’t) or otherwise restrict educator’s ability to make curriculum-consistent decisions in the interest of students. Despite my disappointment and ongoing concern, I am heartened by the hundreds of queer and allied people who spoke up on this issue. I was relieved to learn that 75 per cent of the responses Trustees heard were in support of this motion – we wouldn’t have had that much support in the 1980s.
In their comments before voting No last week, some Trustees said that this was “a difficult issue” and “complicated”. Saying that all students and families are welcome no matter their gender or that of who they love doesn’t seem difficult or complicated to me. Celebrating Pride and explicitly welcoming diverse people will continue to be important, until such celebrations are a no-brainer for everyone.
Huggins is a Queer parent to two excellent kids in Regina Public Schools