Manitoba's public schools get a failing grade when it comes to reflecting the diversity of families, which leads to discrimination against LGBT families and their kids, complaints filed with the Manitoba Human Rights commission allege. 

Two Manitoba families have accused the province of allowing discrimination against LGBT individuals and their families by not providing adequate inclusive learning materials in the classroom.

This means children don't see themselves and their families reflected in their lessons at school, the complaints say.

Provincial guidelines that designate issues of gender identity and sexuality as sensitive topics compound the problem by limiting them to discussions around sexual education and health, allowing parents to opt out of having their children take part in those discussions, they say.

"What we're talking about is not so much people's sexuality, or specifically their gender identity, but actually just about family diversity and understanding and accepting everyone," said Allison Fenske, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Centre who is representing the complainants.

"And so students have to be able to see themselves and their families reflected in their school and know that their families matter."

'Culture of exclusion'

Michelle McHale and her partner Karen Phillips filed one of the complaints against the province. They previously filed a human rights complaint against Hanover School Division after one of their children was bullied for having two moms.

Now they want the province to change its policies to better reflect the reality of students' lives.

"We need teachers to talk about family diversity, not just sexuality. And so the way the province currently operates is that it enables a culture of exclusion," McHale said.

The complaint says the way schools talk about sexuality and gender identity sends a message that being heterosexual and non-transgender is normal and being different from that is not.

"We don't use the same language around heterosexual people, right? We don't say that just because sex is in the word heterosexual, that it automatically means that all conversations around heterosexual people is sexual," McHale said.

McHale wants to see discussion about LGBT people expanded beyond sexual education and included in all topics in the classroom.

"That's in books in the library, that's in math problems, that's in social studies, that's in all places in which human beings are discussed, not simply physical education or health information or sex ed."

Child subject to transphobia

In the second complaint, an unidentified family alleges a child was subject to transphobia as well as homophobia because her parents identify as queer.

"Rather than protecting, affirming and respecting the complainants' daughter and family, school staff outed the child and appeared unable to deal with the bullying she experienced," the written complaint filed with the province said.

Staff did not discuss the child's gender identity with classmates to address the bullying because it was deemed an inappropriate topic, the complaint says.

Fenske said she's hopeful the province will listen to their concerns and take swift action.

"Basically, one of the biggest messages or goals that we have is that you shouldn't be able to opt out of recognizing people for who they are. That's pretty significant," said McHale.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson