Do you remember learning about same gender families in kindergarten? About safe homosexual sex in grade 11 career and life management class? If these subjects came up, odds are it was spontaneously and not as part of the curriculum. U of C student Andrew Barry decided to confront why K-12 education remains predominantly heterosexist.
Barry, a fourth-year development studies student, organized a movie and panel discussion featuring speakers from the Alberta Teachers Association, Alberta Civil Liberties Research Center, and U of C faculty of education social justice researcher Dr. Darren Lund. The documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So, explores five conservative Christian families and the ways they responded to a child coming out as homosexual. The event took place Nov. 6 and was hosted by RJ Fafard, owner of Twisted Element.
Barry is quick to point out that the purpose of the discussion was about homosexuality and education, not religion.
"These are sensitive issues when presented together," he said. "This movie was presented to show the potential consequences of a miseducation or a lack of education regarding homosexuality and not for religious reasons."
Following the screening, panel members shared that while sexual orientation is now included in public education diversity policies, little progress has been made to incorporate public education curriculum that explicitly discusses sexual and gender identity. Barry finds this concerning.
"In local school systems, LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered] students are a vulnerable group," said Barry. "These systems should do what they can to provide a safe environment for all students and staff. I organized this event to generate discourse that could contribute to change in how homosexuality is addressed in local education systems."
Second-year masters education student Patrick Tomczyk found the discussion refreshing.
"It's not something we study," he said. "We go into diversity and talk about struggling students based on ethnicity, culture and learning disabilities, but we don't touch base on sexual orientation."
Tomczyk feels there is a general avoidance of the discussion, even though he believes it is an important and elementary issue of identity.
"Perhaps it's still a relatively new social movement," he said. "I think gender equality is just coming to the forefront. There just isn't enough discourse happening on it yet."
Barry was disappointed at the local school boards' apparent disinterest in the event. He invited all Calgary Board of Education trustees as well as representatives from the Catholic Board and only heared back from the Catholic School District.
"It would have been nice for them to participate in the event," he said. "[The trustees] are in a position to initiate and facilitate change."
Event safety concerns were raised when an impromptu speaker brought his own agenda before the audience prior to the event starting. He was asked to leave by the event's host and reluctantly complied. Tomczyk would have felt better if there was some security presence at the event.
"That might serve as a detriment to future, similar discussions, if people don't feel safe going," he said.
Barry claimed that university administration and campus security was informed of the event and a security presence was requested.