the other planets being perfectly happy with who they are.”


Representation matters. Over the last many years, I’ve been an LGBT2Q Positive Space representative in three different TDSB ele- mentary schools and have advised Gay/Queer Straight Alliances in two of them. In this role, I’m often sought out by queer parents or par- ents of queer children. These encounters can be quite emotional when parents see their families represented in literature I share in the library, the classroom or the GSA. The mere existence of these books inside a public el- ementary school is game changing for families who might feel marginalized. There is also the reaction of children them-

selves. During Pride Month in June, which is also Aboriginal Heritage Month, a title like 47,000 Beads triggers thoughtful conversations across grade levels. Sometimes, when I share this literature, there’s just a quiet, thoughtful look from that kid who hangs out with me on yard duty, but never quite tells me what’s on their mind. Books like these are beacons to kids who feel that they are in some way different from their peers. I believe it is the affirming nature of these

titles that makes them unique and worthwhile for school libraries and classrooms. LGBT2Q- themed books like Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress (Groundwood, 2014) or The Sissy Duckling (Simon Schuster Books, 2015) sometimes rely on the experience of bullying to drive the narrative. Thus, they are anti-bullying books, whose characters are defined by their mistreatment. They have a place in this canon – because bullying and mistreatment are a part of life for LGBT2Q people growing up and in adulthood – but there is room for other stories. j wallace skelton points to his graduate re-

search, in which j managed to unearth rare, out-of-print titles with trans and gender-in- dependent characters going back to the 1930s! “One evening, Bear read quite a number of them to a much smaller Stanley (their older child), who eventually asked him to stop read- ing, because so many of the books were full of bullying, name calling and worse.” Bear Bergman echoes the sentiment, point-

ing to anecdotes he’s heard of the books be- ing used to diffuse unpleasant experiences at school. “It means there’s no negative message to try to explain or overcome, and from an educational perspective the kids aren’t learn- ing new ways to be horrible or new unpleasant words to say.”



This is a question I’m asked quite often, and it is a legitimate one. I think it’s very important that teachers be armed with facts and policy. Children’s gender identity and sexual orienta- tion are not changed by reading books. Were that so, the deluge of heteronormative and cisnormative literature, such as the ubiquitous Berenstain Bears and Little Critters series that fill tubs in school libraries, would have ensured successive generations of heterosexual and gender-conforming children. Representing the diversity that populates our

schools, communities and the broader world is actually our job as teachers. Notwithstand- ing the blatantly homophobic and transpho- bic campaign against the 2015 Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum, as well as the Ford government’s decision to withdraw it, Ontario teachers have a mandate to make sure schools are safe and welcoming spaces for all students. Specifically, under Bill 13, The Safe and Accepting Schools Act, it is the role of the school to “promote respect and understanding for all students regardless of race, gender, sexual orien- tation, disability or any other factor.” These policies are echoed by ETFO, other federations and our local school boards. I be-

lieve that teachers must be forceful in defend- ing these policies. An example of this is found in Catherine Hernandez’s experience after M is for Mustache was published. This was in 2015, when the health curriculum – previously shelved by Dalton McGuinty in 2010 – was restored under Kathleen Wynne’s majority Liberal government. When Hernandez offered to read the book for free at a local school, she was stonewalled by one administrator who was fearful of backlash amidst the anti-sex ed protests of the time. Her- nandez found support among ETFO members in local schools who pushed to bring her in after she reached out in a Facebook post. Well-told, affirming stories, I believe, hold

the promise of expanding the imaginations of children. Bear agrees: “We’re trying to improve the situation of 20 or 30 years from now, by teaching small children that LGBT2Q people exist in the world, and are lovely and fine, and get to have families and friends. Even just to be able to see a positive representation of a queer family is a very big deal. When you add that to some of what we’re able to do around bod- ies, ability, race, culture and other factors, it’s tremendous.” n

Gordon Nore is a member of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto.


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