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Hey, Cis! S1:E15: T.R.A.G.I.C - The Real Tragedy and protecting gender expansive children in schools

conversion therapy heycis! podcast school schools transphobia transyouth Sep 02, 2021

Hey, Cis; Hey, who? Cis = latin preface for 'on the same side as. Cisgender is someone whose gender identity aligns with their sex as assigned at birth.

Cisgender is someone who has the ability to make the world safer, brighter and more inclusive for trans people young and old. Cisgender is someone who needs to be an intentional part of the conversation -- so let's talk.

Cynthia Sweeney is the mother of three amazing children and lives with her husband and family in Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of her children is transgender.

Isaac Cook is a trans and non-binary social scientist, educator and lives with his partner near Truro, Nova Scotia.  For more... see our About page.

This podcast is 100% volunteer-based and we appreciate your support and tuning in.

In this episode we were excited to be joined by the following guests to talk about protecting gender expansive children in schools:

Tristan Coolman (he/him)

Tristan Coolman is president of a Pflag chapter in York Region in Ontario. 

Over the last three years Pflag YR has led the efforts in Ontario to lobby the provincial government to revert their curriculum back to a realistic model which begins to better equip our younger generations with the language and confidence to express themselves as they choose without worrying about the pressures of gender norms.

Megan Kean (she/her)

Megan (she/her) is a registered nurse with 12 years of experience working in pediatrics and a student in the Master's of Nursing program at Dalhousie University. She is a mother to 8-year-old twins, one of which is a proud transgender girl, Bri.

Bri socially transitioned in grade 1 and her peers were very supportive of her thanks to her amazing teacher Mme. Kelsey.  Megan is grateful for the wonderful support of her teachers, friends, family, and the trans community over the past two years and is very proud of her family.  Megan was a guest on Hey, Cis! episode 2, 'What would you want for your own child?'.

Kathy (she/her)

Kathy is from the Halifax area and a parent of 3 boys. When her youngest son came out in 2016 as transgender it was a blessing and welcome answer to questions they had been seeking for years. Her family could not have made it through 6 years of struggle prior to this without the help and support from his teachers, principals and his mental health team. The support of those folks in the school system are one of the main reasons Kathy's son is with us today. She knows the value of having teachers and school staff who are educated on how to help and willing to help and support  students through some of their most challenging times in life. Especially when not all parents and families are as accepting.

Kelsey Myles (she/her)

Kelsey is currently a grade Primary/One French Immersion teacher within the Halifax Regional School Centre for Education. She has 10 years teaching experience both within Halifax and abroad in International Schools. Kelsey's been involved in Simply Good Forms Inclusive Reads program for 2 years now. She’s an educator who strives to ensure an inclusive learning environment in which all students feel accepted, safe and valued.

Maggie Barnhill (she/her)

Maggie is a lawyer, turned stay at home mom, turned teacher.  She has 3 teenage sons whom I am (hopefully successfully) raising to be good humans.  She teaches within Nova Scotia.

Listen Here


Canadian teachers received a deceiving and potentially harmful email this past week. It was written supposedly by 'a fellow teacher' and addressed all Canadian teachers.

The widely distributed email from Megan Giacomelli, calls upon teachers to join the project T.R.A.G.I.C. (Teachers Resisting All Gender Ideological Curriculum). It's mandate is simple and extremely dangerous for educators and all students:

' get teachers in touch within same boards and geographical areas so we may be able to speak up in solidarity and support to effect change at a board level.' 'I feel very concerned about the pressure to teach content regarding gender ideology, which I believe to be a harmful form of indoctrination and completely inappropriate for children.'

The email targets those who are not educated on gender identity beyond the binary and it is well disguised as 'informative' rather than for what it truly is: transphobic and baseless. Is the author really a teacher? We don't know. Do they stand behind their real name? Uncertain.

What is their background and their personal agenda?

In this episode, our panel of guests, with lived experience, with education and with fact-based, science-based and most importantly with human rights based information are coming together to share their reaction to the email and talk about why it is so potentially harmful.

Tune-in as we talk about protecting trans and non-binary children through policy and accountability; and we ask Nova Scotia Department of Early Childhood Education:

  • How can you ensure teachers know where to go to the information they need to support trans and non-binary students of any age? Because, current stats show the majority of Nova Scotia teachers are uncertain and uncomfortable finding these resources.

"We urge the NS Dept of Education to reaffirm to the public that education about sex and gender minority students can be assured that their identities will be affirmed and that school will be a safe place for this. The Department should also enter into discussions, through the Minister’s Council on Teacher Education, with teacher education institutes in the province to make education on this topic mandatory. I believe the NSTU, through its Equity Committee, has shown continued leadership in this area and I would hope the NSTU would be part of any discussions about this topic."

One of the threads that runs through our B ED and M Ed programs as STFX is social justice and equity. We know that each and every student needs to have a safe and positive learning environment that affirms and build upon their identities. And we also know you can’t really focus on learning when you feel unsafe, so this is an issue that impacts learning.

We also know from the 2011 EGALE study of almost 4,000 high school students in Winnipeg that, while school curriculum talk about human rights and dignity, LGBTQ students reported much higher levels of unsafety and harassment in school, particularly in the informal spaces like hallways, bathroom and gymnasiums. These students also reported that generally they didn’t see teachers doing anything about this. These students did not see most of their teachers being advocates or allies for LGBTQ students. The more recent New Brunswick Student Wellness Survey (2016) of students in Grade 6-12 found similar results to the EGALE survey.

Troubling Patterns:

StFX University has offered a Positive Space Program since 2003 as a way to educate students, staff and faculty about homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and help them understand their role in promoting a safe and inclusive campus community. For several years Positive Space was an optional PD offering for our B Ed students and we noted troubling patterns.  The B Ed teachers who showed up for Positive Space were overwhelmingly females, who were training to teach at the secondary level. Few elementary or male teachers showed up. This was not good enough for us.  

Knowing the important role teachers play in both interrupting heteronormativity and cisgender privilege and creating representation of LGBTQ+ experiences in schools, in 2009 the Faculty of Education made Positive Space I & II (5 hours) training part of mandatory foundation courses for B Ed students.  B Ed students also have the opportunity to extend their learning and advocacy by completing Positive Space 3 (Curriculum Connections) and Positive Space Train the Trainer (Becoming a Positive Space Facilitator).  It is our understanding that we are the only B Ed program to make such training a mandatory part of our B Ed program in Nova Scotia, and one of only a very few across the country.  In our M Ed courses we have created a graduate level course in “Educating LGBTQ students”, which is a very popular offering.

For the last decade, three faculty members (Dr, Jennifer Mitton, Dr. Laura-Lee Kearns, and Dr. Joanne Tompkins) have been researching the impact of Positive Space Training on B Ed teachers when they are in their practicum experiences and when they are starting out in the profession. We have written many articles on this subject and they have been published in the journals across the country. In 2019, because of the work we had been doing to make this education required for all new teachers,  we were invited to participate in a National Symposium on LGBTQ education within Teacher Education at the University of British Columbia.

What we have learned from our research is, to quote Maya Angelo, “when people know better, they do better”. When new and practicing teachers understand the depth of the oppression and alienation LGBTQ+ students (and CH students who have LGBTQ+ family members) face in schools, when they understand the impact a single teacher can make in a student’s experience in school, and when they have learned some strategies to both interrupt oppression and create more representation of LGBTQ+ presence in schools, they have the courage and confidence to be an advocate and an ally. 

Importance of Principal:

Our research also reminds us of the important role of the principal in supporting beginning teachers who want to enact social justice education. When principals send clear signals that LGBTQ+ education is for all students at all levels of schooling, individual teachers feel more empowered to do this work.  

We would support any recommendation to make sure that all B Ed programs make this training a mandatory part of all B Ed programs in the province. We would support recommendations to ensure that principals engage in in-depth professional development on this topic. Also in-service teachers (teachers who have been teaching for several years) need continual access to up-to-date information and awareness of what the research is telling us about how to ensure that we are affirming sexual orientation and gender identity of all our students.

In regards to the email that was circulating this week about the organization TRAGIC, we know that there is opposition and backlash occurring to the very work that Positive Space is doing. We urge the NS Dept of Education to reaffirm to the public that education about sex and gender minority students can be assured that their identities will be affirmed and that school will be a safe place for this. The Department should also enter into discussions, through the Minister’s Council on Teacher Education, with teacher education institutes in the province to make education on this topic mandatory. I believe the NSTU, through its Equity Committee, has shown continued leadership in this area and I would hope the NSTU would be part of any discussions about this topic.

As researchers and teacher educators with experience and commitment to this issue we’d be happy to share our learnings.

Joanne Tompkins (she/her)

Professor, Faculty of Education, St Francis Xavier University

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