What can we learn from this week’s first ever CAIS Student Panel?
For starters, technology is changing the way we connect. As I sat in my kitchen, chatting with three amazing students about the highly personal topic of gender orientation, gender identification, and sexual orientation, I felt moved by their courage and inspired by their passion and ideas. I felt as if they were in my kitchen with me. But the fact is the students were only images on my laptop. Frank, Sid, and Miles were actually each by themselves, sitting in classrooms in St George’s, St Michaels University School and Shawnigan Lake School. Meanwhile, over 100 people – staff and students alike – sat in their separate CAIS schools across the country. Some joined in alone, but others sat in groups, at least one class of students joined the panel; and two schools broadcast the panel in their community spaces.
The impressive part? Frank, Sid and Miles not only spoke articulately but also managed to jump in and interact with the participants on the chat. This was truly a national conversation!
So I have a few big take-aways: we should connect more often as a national network; we should include students in the conversations – Maureen Steltman, Head of Fraser Academy suggested we should have invited parents! – and we should have the courage to continue the conversation and maybe even take on other big topics.
But the most important lessons came directly from the students. I encourage you to watch the full discussion, but here are the ten lessons from my notes:
- Safety is a big issue, and everyone has a right to feel safe, both emotionally and physically. We need to raise awareness and talk more about tolerance.
- Include age appropriate curriculum on gender orientation and identification. Our CAIS schools have the liberty to do more than just the provincial curriculum, so we should be leaders in the classroom.
- Support a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA; sometimes called Gender Sexuality Awareness) club in your school; and if you don’t have one, start one. Clubs can promote visibility and demonstrate acceptance.
- Challenge the subtle homophobia and passive bullying that continues to exist in society. Schools can teach the significance of words and the harm that can be done.
- Share resources – check out our CAIS LGBTQ+ resource page here
- Understand that change can take time and remember that even small things can really help.
- Market our CAIS schools as safe and open places; Sid and Miles told me that they chose their universities based on what they researched on the university websites (Good for Carleton and UBC!)
- The media has made the conversation about bathrooms, but that’s not the issue! Students want to understand and be understood.
- We need schools to update their policies. If the government can pass Bill C-16 to ensure Canadians are free to identify themselves and express their gender as they wish while being protected against discrimination and hate, then schools need to figure out how to best support all students and staff. Schools can start by including students in the development of policies.
- Leaders have to understand the issues, hold people accountable for their actions, and do more to raise awareness.
It was a privilege to be part of Monday’s powerful conversation, and I am so grateful to Frank, Sid and Miles for their openness, courage, and candor. I love thinking about the conversations that will continue across the country because of their leadership. Maybe some of the conversations will even happen in your kitchen!