Mason Jenkins is a 27-year-old transgender Calgary man who began his transition about six years ago.
“I just never really fit in those constructed ideas of what it means to be a little girl, what it means to be feminine in our society,” he explained.
“Our school system is a very heteronormative system, so it doesn’t really provide experiences of transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, two-spirit, LGBTQ identities.”
So for Jenkins, a new guidebook to help teachers discuss issues around gender, sexuality and bullying, is welcome news.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association developed the 150-page “Prism Toolkit for Safe and Caring Discussions” to help create a more inclusive environment for all students.
“This doesn’t change the program of studies, but it augments it. It adds in examples where people are maybe a same-gender couple,” Jenkins said.
But the document also has its critics.
Donna Trimble, executive director at Parents for Choice in Education, says the toolkit pushes one particular view of gender on all students.
There has been a conflation of the idea that, in order to care and accept children from all different perspectives, we also must agree on what gender looks like,” she said. “That is an error that bleeds into the document in a very dangerous way.”
Trimble’s group opposes the province’s Bill 10, which allows students to form gay-straight alliances and gives transgender students the right to be accepted by the gender they identify with including pronouns, playing on sport teams and washroom use, among other changes.
“We speak for all parents … from all different backgrounds in a diverse, pluralistic society,” Trimble told Alberta@Noon Wednesday in a panel discussion on the new guidebook.
And Trimble says the toolkit could exclude religious students in particular.
“Diversity of thought should be welcome in the discussion, and no child in a classroom should feel isolated because they happen to sit in a space that believes in the sort of Biblical, I guess you could say, binary perspective,” she said.
She wants the ATA to “put the focus on strong anti-bullying policies, without an insistence upon the imposition of a particular perspective of gender.”
Calgary immigration lawyer Raj Sharma said that, while a safe environment is everyone’s goal, this particular document could create challenges for teachers who are navigating classrooms with increasingly diverse student populations.
“Most immigrants and second-generation Canadians tend to be much more religious than native-born Canadians,” Sharma said.