Hate has no place in Alberta’s public schools.
This June—which is recognized as Pride Month by the province, municipalities and school districts—we have seen an alarming increase in instances of hate speech and misinformation directed toward members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, as well as toward teachers, district officials and board trustees who are attempting to create safe and welcoming spaces for all students and their families. While these attacks are supported by a small but very vocal minority, they have a corrosive effect on society and undermine the safety and well-being of students and school staff.
These attacks must be met firmly, lies must be countered by truth, and intolerance must be called out and addressed directly.
But there is hope. Across this province, we see Albertans standing up to support their sexual- and gender-diverse friends, neighbours and family members. We see students organizing gay/queer–straight alliances (GSAs) dedicated to creating a community of support in their schools. We see rainbow images being displayed to define safe and welcoming spaces. We see teachers and schools making efforts to reflect and integrate gender diversity in instruction, including offering optional locally developed courses focusing on 2SLGBTQIA+ history, art, literature and current issues.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association has been a leader in supporting sexual- and gender-diverse students and their teachers in Alberta, including providing diversity, equity and human rights (DEHR) programming and funding; supporting teacher participation in Pride events; developing and publishing PRISM resources appropriate for various grade levels; and advocating in support of teachers and students being able to have appropriate conversations about sexual and gender diversity in the classroom. We recognize, however, that more work remains to be done.
As teachers within the public education system, we recognize the need to create a culture of respect for diversity and understand that recognizing the rights of one group does not diminish those of others. Quite the opposite. Supporting sexual and gender diversity derives from and contributes to the recognition and support of religious, racial, linguistic and other forms of diversity. Teachers also understand that fostering an understanding and appreciation of diversity in all its forms is fundamental to developing students who will become active citizens able to contribute positively to Canadian democracy and community life.
I encourage all Albertans to stand with teachers and, with open hearts and minds, to listen to those affected by hate. We especially need to listen to our 2SLGBTQIA+ colleagues and students this Pride Month. Collectively, we can make a positive difference. That starts by standing together against hate in our schools.
Jason Schilling, ATA president