Alberta LGBTQ teaching resource revised after controversy

The Alberta Teachers Association has revised a resource guide for LGBTQ-friendly classrooms that sparked controversy last year.

'We wanted to focus on the content and to avoid the distractions,' says Alberta Teachers Association

The gender unicorn has been removed from an Alberta teachers handbook to create LGBTQ-friendly classrooms. (Alberta Teachers' Association)

The Alberta Teachers Association has revised a resource guide for LGBTQ-friendly classrooms that sparked controversy last year.

The revised version of the "Prism Toolkit for Safe and Caring Discussions About Sexual and Gender Minorities" no longer contains a few elements seized on by critics.

"Comrades" has been removed from a suggested gender-neutral pronouns to address girls and boys. Also gone is an illustration of a purple cartoon "Gender Unicorn" asking where you fall on the gender spectrum.

Spokesperson Jonathan Teghtmeyer said the ATA made "minor changes" to the online document shortly after it was thrust into the headlines last November, but the content largely remains the same.

"We felt that the criticisms last year of the Prism document were sensationalistic," Teghtmeyer told CBC News on Tuesday. "We felt that they misrepresented the document. And that ultimately they distracted from the important content that was within the document. And so we wanted to focus on the content and to avoid the distractions."
Jonathan Teghtmeyer with the Alberta Teachers Association says sensational criticism distracted from the important content of the document. (Trisha Estabrooks/CBC)

The 149-page resource outlines history, policies and legislation related to sexual and gender minorities. It includes advice on responding to homophobia or to a student who comes out. Revised hard copies were distributed last winter.

"This is about getting a resource in front of teachers to help students feel safe and supported at schools," said Teghtmeyer. "I think it's important to note that this document was thoroughly vetted with teachers from a wide variety of teaching situations, including teachers that teach in Catholic schools."

Alienates students

But Edmonton blogger and parent Theresa Ng, who first raised concerns about the resource guide, was critical of the association's response.

"On one hand, they claimed that it was just sensationalistic reporting and that there was no issue," said Ng. "But on the other hand, they felt compelled to actually make changes to the document, which seems to suggest that there were in fact legitimate concerns."

It's not the first time Ng has spoken out. Last March, links were removed from a government-funded website for students in gay-straight alliances after Ng complained.

Despite the changes to the toolkit, Ng's overall concern remains.
Blogger Theresa Ng says the resource imposes one view on sexuality and gender that not all students agree with. (CBC)

"The document is still imposing a singular perspective which ends up alienating and disrespecting many students in Alberta schools who don't necessarily hold those personal beliefs on sexuality and gender," she said.

The clash over the resource handbook is one of many pitting sexual and gender minority advocates and the NDP government against social conservatives and the Catholic church in an ongoing feud over the rights of sexual and gender minority students and curriculum.

Earlier this week, United Conservative Party candidate Jason Kenney blasted Premier Rachel Notley, who rejected a curriculum proposal by Catholic superintendents that would include church teachings in sex education class.

The toolkit, developed with part of a grant from Alberta Education, directs readers to a variety of resources including LGBTQ-friendly organizations, entertainment and literature, as well as lesson plans in core subjects.

"We're very proud of the Prism toolkit," said Teghtmeyer. "Sexual gender and minority students are present essentially in every school. And teachers want to ensure that those students feel safe, welcomed and supported at school. Prism helps teachers do that."

Among the lesson plans, "Drag 101" is now called "Gender on Stage." It gives cosmetology and drama students a chance to learn about drag culture and may involve getting makeup tips from drag queens or performing dressed in drag.

A social studies lesson allows students to explore Indigenous perspectives on gender, or two-spirit identities, while Christian religious studies looks at "why homophobia leads us to sin." Math students solve "inclusive word problems" about same sex couples or individuals referred to as "they" and "their."

Ng said she's not against exploring multiple perspectives.

"I think that it's very valuable for children to understand that people have many different values when it comes to these issues of gender and sexuality," said Ng. "However, the role of the education system should be to provide information to people, not to promote or impose a singular perspective on children."