A mom from the Steinbach area is taking the Hanover School Division to task over the way it handles issues of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.
Michelle McHale's 12 year-old child was being bullied for living in a household with two moms. When McHale asked the school to talk with students about the many definitions of family, which include same-sex couples, she was told teachers were prohibited from speaking about homosexuality in the classroom.
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McHale said conversations around families with same-sex couples are about diversity not sex.
"It has nothing to do with sex ed to say everybody's families are ok," said McHale. "It's about people, it's about acceptance, it's about diversity, it's about human rights, really."
McHale took her concerns to the school division and that's when she learned that the guidelines extended to all schools in the Hanover School Division. In an email response to McHale, superintendent, Randy Dueck, shared that "sexual orientation, abortion, or masturbation are not a discussion topic or addressed in any curricular outcomes or lessons in Grades 5 to 8."
New school limited by same rules
McHale said her child was bullied about her mother's sexual orientation to the point of rejecting the family.
"Whatever was happening at the school was just all-consuming to the point where [they] felt like [they] had to step away from [their] family in order to feel ok. And I get it. But it's heartbreaking, too."
McHale's child now goes to a different school. She said that the new school's environment is more accepting, but because it is still in the Hanover School Division it is bound by the same restrictions as the former school.
On Tuesday, McHale took her concerns to the Hanover School Division board of trustees. She is asking for the school board to actively address its policies around diversity and allow discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms within the next 30 days.
History of opposition from community
Addressing LGBTQ issues is a point of tension for the Hanover School Division. In 2013 it rejected a motion that called them to lobby the provincial government around changes to its anti-bullying law. At that time the board's biggest concern was a clause that would force schools to accommodate students who want to start specific anti-bullying clubs, including gay-straight alliances.
More than 2,700 people living in the area signed a petition voicing their opposition to Bill 18.
McHale said she is prepared for the possibility of negative response from the community.
"I think backlash is inevitable. It absolutely is," she said.
"I have no interest in calling people out, my interest is in change. Let's help kids feel better in schools."