Trevor Ritchie | Contributor
Last year, the BC Ministry of Education announced that all BC school boards and independent schools would be required to specifically reference sexual orientation and gender identity in their codes of conduct, which followed a similar amendment to the BC Human Rights Code that added gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination.
The new changes come after more than three quarters of school districts had independently created policies addressing sexual orientation and gender identity within their districts. This new provincial policy will force the remaining districts to create policies that are in line with provincial requirements.
The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum being used by the provincial government includes pre-made lesson plans that recognize students right to self-identify their gender and preferred gender pronouns, which may be different from the person’s biological birth sex. This differentiation between biological sex and gender identity is a major point of contention for trans individuals, and the new curriculum will help to educate students and faculty about these differences and how to better support people with different sexual orientations and gender identities.
The SOGI 1-2-3 program that the BC government is implementing has already been used in Alberta and consists of three parts of the program: creating district policies that specifically address sexual orientation and gender identity issues, creating inclusive learning environments, and developing resources to be used in the classroom by teachers and staff.
The first part of the program has already been implemented by school districts because of previous Ministry requirements, and school boards across British Columbia are now attempting to implement changes that account for the second part of the program, which is to create more inclusive learning environments. Implicit in this is that additional training will be required for all school staff, including school board officials who are meant to oversee the program in their local districts.
It is this change in environment that is currently attracting opposition from some school trustees and concerned parents. These concerns mainly revolve around concerns that children are being introduced to the topic in age inappropriate ways, and that the families themselves should have greater control over when their children are introduced to topics of sexual diversity. Other groups are concerned that the focus on changing the language used is going too far in stifling the way individuals refer to each other, with some people who are opposed to the policy expressing concern that young children are not able to understand the issues and accurately explain their own sexual orientation or gender identity.
Supporters of the policy note that past anti-bullying strategies have lacked a coherent focus on sexual orientation and gender identity issues, and that members of the LGBTQ community experience higher and more severe rates of bullying within the school system, and that these statistics justify specific policies meant to address those concerns that are not being addressed through the current anti-bullying programs.
According to its creators, the SOGI 1-2-3 program is meant to evolve over time, with teachers and administrators continuing to add to the program and in particular to the classroom resources that make up the third component of the program. The program website provides links to lesson plans that the program claims are suitable for each age group and grade, but there is a limited amount of material currently available. The expectation is that as teachers create their own lesson plans and materials that would be suitable for the program, those lessons will be added to the SOGI 1-2-3 database for other teachers to use, further building the program and making it more accessible to a greater number of educators and students throughout British Columbia.