ATA News

We must resist attacks on inclusion

Gender diverse people in Alberta are under attack. Ever since Jan. 31, when Premier Danielle Smith posted a video promising new legislation to protect gender diverse youth, gender diverse students have found themselves the targets of rising hate speech in their school hallways, mocked for their gender expression or labeled as too disgusting to be in physical contact with their peers. 

These acts, to name a few, are becoming commonplace, as are attacks on teachers. 2SLGBTQIA+ teachers are being discouraged from mentioning their partners or families or identifying their own pronouns. They are being directed to remove safe space or rainbow visuals from their classrooms. Even ally teachers receive many of these directives. 

Sexual and gender diverse students and teachers are witnessing their own classmates, community members and relatives stand up and walk out, or engage in active protests, at the mere mention of our existence, lives and identities. 

In the wake of all these experiences, school staff are afraid to mention these topics for fear that they will become targets. This results in the reduction in representation of 2SLGBTQIA+ identities in our schools. Should reduced representation continue and the proposed legislation come into effect, the erasure of an entire group of people is imminent. 

Accepting these prejudices within our school communities violates human rights. When we overlook homophobia and transphobia while condemning other forms of oppression, we contradict the principles of inclusivity. We should condemn all oppression. 

Cultural clashes, wherein one group states that another group’s existence infringes on their beliefs, are also escalating exponentially. Demands for the inclusion of some groups at the expense of others creates further division instead of unity. This situation transcends differences in opinion; it is an issue of fundamental human rights. While everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, these should not infringe on the rights, dignity and lives of others. Nor should one group’s beliefs dictate the mere existence of another.

In the face of escalating challenges over the past year, the Alberta Teachers’ Association Gender and Sexuality Alliance (ATAGSA) has continued to be a beacon of connection and solidarity for individuals who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+ and their allies. The ATAGSA has become a crucial forum where teachers can gather, discuss and navigate the dreadful changes in Alberta. It provides a safety net for 2SLGBTQIA+ teachers and their allies, offering a venue for individuals to meet and find solace amidst oppression. The group facilitates sharing experiences, fostering solidarity and active listening among its members. Together, members develop strategies to address interpersonal and political challenges and mobilize efforts to create impactful change through grassroots organizing.

While everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, these should not infringe on the rights, dignity and lives of others.

In addition, the ATAGSA plays a vital role in gathering and analyzing data on looming laws and policies that threaten to roll back rights. The ATAGSA centralizes crucial information and connects members with legal experts, policymakers and other professionals. The ATAGSA’s commitment to dissecting policies, cross-referencing them with academic research and examining them from several angles ensures that members are well-informed and equipped to advocate effectively. 

By holding members to professional standards and promoting activism, the ATAGSA combats isolation and imposter syndrome, providing an antidote through community support. Further, we remind each other that it is through community that we build a safer world. By utilizing our collective strengths and acting together, we can achieve a more equitable world.

The ATA’s role in supporting diversity has never been more crucial than in this era marked by rising opposition to inclusivity. As members, you can take several actions to support this vital cause. Equip yourself with talking points to challenge discriminatory behaviour and discourse, sign petitions, donate to human rights organizations and write letters to your MLA. Raise your voice against the anti-2SLGBTQIA+ movement and advocate for the people you care about and love. 

Cultural clashes only divide us instead of pulling all identities forward together. Instead of fighting each other, we need to stand together. Be visible in your support for targeted groups and remember that being an ally is an active role.

As Pride Month dawns, let us all reaffirm our commitment to inclusivity and human rights. The ATAGSA’s work exemplifies the power of collective action and the importance of standing together against discrimination. By supporting diversity and equity networks like the ATAGSA and taking individual action, we can help create a more inclusive and equitable society for all. ❚

Rin Lawrence is a teacher and diversity consultant for Edmonton Public Schools and chair of the Alberta Teachers’ Association Gender and Sexuality Alliance (ATAGSA).

Rin Lawrence 2
Rin Lawrence