March 5, 2016
Dear Minister of Education:
You need to listen.
We have written letters, sent emails, made phone calls, signed petitions and even took to Twitter on March 1 to tweet our concerns to you and Premier Notley. We have tried in many ways to make our voices heard. However, our concerns continue to be misrepresented and minimized.
Please understand that there are thousands of people across Alberta, including myself, who are united in opposition against:
1. The mandatory requirement that each school board submit policies prior to March 31 that “specifically address the board’s responsibility as it relates to the LGBTQ community.”
2. The content and implications of Alberta Education’s “Guidelines for Best Practices: Creating Learning Environments that Respect Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Gender Expressions”, a document provided to support school boards as they write their own mandated district-specific policies.
Let me be extremely clear.
We are NOT anti-LGBTQ. In fact, we have never disputed that something must be done to help struggling LGBTQ youth.
We AGREE something must be done to support these students and their families.
What we disagree with is the approach, specifically the content and implications of the guidelines document.
In order to best protect ALL children, we believe more perspectives must be brought to the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation policies and procedures in schools and that more balance and consultation be brought into the solutions.
It is simply ineffective for policies to increase “protection” of some, while simultaneously risking a compromise to the safety, respect of diversity and parental involvement of ALL.
We ALL have deeply held personal values and beliefs when it comes to gender, sexuality and identity.
Why, Minister Eggen, are you insisting that one of those perspectives on sexuality and gender be imposed on ALL of us and our children in schools across Alberta?
When we organized our March 1 Twitter Campaign I was naïve. I thought that in a democratic society, in the company of reasonable adults, I could respectfully voice my concerns as a parent on this issue and be heard and valued. I was so mistaken!
Do you know the horrible things myself and our campaign were labeled as, Minister Eggen? In case you didn’t see, I included a small sampling of tweets below that our campaign received.
If you’d like to see many, many more, go search our #protectABkids hashtag on Twitter from March 1. I have never been the recipient of so much hate in my life. Hate for something that I didn’t even think, believe or say. And, ironically, hate from people who were espousing protection from bullying!
NO ONE should have to endure such hostile, hurtful behaviour – not grown adults on Twitter and certainly not ANY children in our schools. NO ONE should be bullied for voicing their concerns or for holding a different perspective than others. And if this type of behaviour is what we face as adults on this issue, how will our children fare in our schools if they try to voice concerns or dare hold a different perspective on the issue of gender/sexuality?
Among the onslaught of horrible names that I was called, did you know Minister Eggen that I was publicly accused on Twitter as “Hate gets organized against LGBTQ kids” by one of the people involved in the research and writing of the guidelines themselves?
Please, Minister Eggen, take a look and actually read the “Purpose & Mission” statement of our Twitter campaign and read all the information on my blog which he referenced below his comment. And ask yourself – if anyone can look at what I have written and interpret it as hateful, should we really be trusting them with accurately drawing conclusions on research that forms the basis of school board policies?
How can people who claim “protection” of children spew such aggression and hurtful words and really be trusted to care about ALL our perspectives and ALL our children?
This is wrong.
It doesn’t matter what anyone’s personal view is on gender and sexuality. To impose one view of sexuality and gender on everyone, even if they don’t agree with it, and then resort to labeling and name calling to silence dissent is NOT the way a democratic society should operate.
One person on Twitter even compiled a list of any parents and members of the public she could find who tweeted our concerns to Minister Eggen and added us to a public Twitter “anti-LGBTQ list”
So, may I suggest an alternative to these guidelines? Here are some beliefs and practices that would guarantee supports of LGBTQ youth AND allow for other perspectives to be respected and valued.
ALL Albertans and their children deserve to:
1. Live out their lives at home and school, entitled to their own deeply held, personal beliefs and values, especially when it comes to sexuality, gender and identity, without any fear of reprisal for their beliefs. Our school system should not be a place where one set of values and beliefs on such a profoundly personal issue should be imposed on others. And no one’s values and beliefs should ever be ridiculed or held as more/less legitimate, just because they are different.
2. When a parent brings forward a concern, it should be addressed. In a democratic society, a parent should never feel belittled, minimized or disrespected for voicing a concern that is important to them and their children. It is not up to anyone else to say that our concern is not valid or legitimate. We ALL need to have a voice. Fear of aggression or judgement should never cause parents to feel their concerns must be silenced.
3. Everyone has a right to respect, as well as a responsibility to show it. This is a balance. It means that no one will get their way, all of the time. We ALL need to learn to give and take, to discuss and learn, and extend respect, even when we don’t get our way every time. We cannot allow a certain perspective to dominate without allowing for thoughtful, balanced discussion.
These beliefs apply to EVERYONE, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity or any other factor. We do not want ANY student (or adult) to feel discriminated against, for ANY reason. We believe that respect for all in no way diminishes respect for some.
Do you know why you hear so seemingly little public opposition to these guidelines?
Because people are scared.
And trust me – now I personally, fully understand why. I get private messages from teachers who are scared to speak up with their concerns on this issue because they are scared to be labeled. Trustees can’t speak up because they will be labeled. Politicians can’t speak up because they will be labeled. And well, heaven forbid religious leaders dare speak up because we all know their opinions don’t seem to matter, even though they are Albertans too.
Just as myself and the Twitter Campaign I helped to organize were (very inaccurately) labeled, so it is likely they would be labeled too – as transphobes, homophobes, narrow-minded, bigots, misinformed, out-of-touch, anti-LGBTQ, holding back progress, misled, misinformed, fanatics, etc.
Minister Eggen, let’s stand up to bullying together. Let us truly stand up for parents and children in our province to have the right and freedom to voice their concerns, without fear of reprisal.
I applaud you for the recent conversation you had with Westwind Board Chair Ron Fromm, shared on the Westwind School Division website, in which you “reiterated that the Guidelines for Best Practice were intended to be a resource for boards, but if they are not helping then don’t use them in your policies.”
I was so encouraged to hear this news! But what about the rest of the school boards? And the rest of the parents and members of the public elsewhere in the province? Can you please be more clear about your intentions regarding the guidelines document and what role it needs to have in the policies of school boards?
We ask again for the same three items stated in the original “Purpose & Mission” of our March 1 Twitter Campaign:
1. We request the Minister of Education rescind his mandatory requirement that all school boards develop policies that “specifically address the board’s responsibility as it relates to the LGBTQ community,” beyond what is directly required by existing law.
2. We request the Minister of Education remove any explicit or implicit pressure or obligation for school boards to adhere to any of the non-binding “best practices” written in the guidelines document.
3. We request the provincial government respect the autonomy and democratic process school boards already have in place to be responsive to the concerns and issues brought forward by the members of the public they represent. Each jurisdiction should be their own best judge of the need, timing and content of any policies, including those specifically addressing LGBTQ students.
We continue to advocate on behalf of school boards and parents that they be given the autonomy to approach each unique situation at a local level, and trust children will be treated with compassion as accommodations are made.
Please trust the expertise of schools and school boards to respond to the individual needs of vulnerable, at-risk youth (LGBTQ or otherwise) with supports on a case-by-case basis, that specifically address each child’s unique circumstances, needs and context.
Many schools are already doing so in a thoughtful, balanced way, without the need to suggest such divisive guidelines.
We expect that by March 15 you will have clearly addressed your intentions regarding the guidelines document publicly so that all school boards can plan accordingly, prior to the March 31 deadline you have set.
Today I will also send a copy of this letter to your office, through the postal system and over email.
We respectfully await your response.
Theresa Ng, on behalf of concerned parents and members of the voting public across Alberta
Please note this has been shared as an open letter to members of the public: