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Boost same-sex curricula: union

MTS seeks big changes to education in province

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So you thought Bill 18 has stirred up an education hornet's nest?

The union leadership representing Manitoba's 15,000 public school teachers wants all provincial education curricula to reflect sexual orientation and gender-identity issues.

A resolution to go before the annual general meeting of the Manitoba Teachers' Society May 23 to 25 would call on the Department of Education to "ensure that same-sex families and LBGTTQ (lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, two-spirited, queer) people and themes are reflected in all curricula."

All Manitoba schools, regardless of whether they are public or private, must follow provincial curricula.

"Kids get a distorted social mirror," MTS president Paul Olson said Wednesday. "The world is not a Leave it to Beaver, heterosexual place."

The curricula don't reflect reality, said Olson. "There's this kind of ringing silence -- it's a deafening silence."

The resolution comes from the provincial executive, Olson said.

Teachers have given their union a clear message that what they teach must reflect gender and sexual identity. "It's not that every lesson has to include it; we're not saying anything that absurd," Olson said.

MTS is aware the idea will not go over well everywhere, Olson added.

"I'm sure it will generate some debate. That kind of heat tends to generate some light.

"There should be tension -- that's how we hold ideas up to scrutiny," said Olson.

Education Minister Nancy Allan said Wednesday, "They have not discussed that with me," adding, "I'm glad they're having that discussion."

Allan would not speculate on what the union might do, or what the government would do if teachers pass the resolution, but noted "it would take years" to implement such sweeping changes.

Deputy education minister Gerald Farthing said sexual-orientation issues are covered in the health curriculum under family life, and in human-rights units in the social studies curriculum.

But what teachers are proposing is a sweeping change that would include amending and expanding the curriculum in every subject taught in schools.

"It's systemic. It would be leading if it were to go ahead," said Chad Smith, executive director of the Rainbow Resource Centre, which serves the gay and lesbian community. "It's great. This is a bigger picture" than the incremental small steps the centre has been making with individuals at the school level, Smith said.

"We've had concerns raised to us by parents who are same-sex couples, that they aren't being represented" in what their kids learn in school, Smith said.

Allan said she could not recall such a broad proposal.

Several divisions have extensive anti-homophobia policies, such as the Winnipeg and Louis Riel school divisions.

Officials with the Manitoba Federation of Independent Schools could not be reached Wednesday.

One provision of Bill 18 involving sexual orientation has set off protests in some parts of the province.

The anti-bullying bill includes a provision that any school receiving public money must accommodate a student who asks to establish a gay-straight alliance in the school.

A Feb. 24 prayer meeting at Steinbach Christian High School drew 1,200 people opposing the bill. Steinbach and RM of Hanover councils have called on Allan to review her proposed bill.

Numerous groups say Bill 18 violates religious freedom.

Last week, the Garden Valley school board in Winkler objected to the bill's human-diversity clause: "This is a section 15 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms violation to equal treatment. To protect or grant special privileges to a few types of groups of students at the exclusion of other students cannot be justified. This is the inherent problem with listing groups that deserve protection: Some are always left out. Fundamentally, every student should receive equal protection and equal opportunity," Garden Valley School Division trustees said.

Allan said her government is determined to pass Bill 18 before breaking for the summer so it will be in effect when classes start in September.

The Tories have been holding up other legislature business over their opposition to the NDP's one percentage point increase to the provincial sales tax.

The government still needs to table Bill 18 for second reading, hold committee hearings, then pass third reading and obtain royal assent from the lieutenant-governor before breaking for the summer.

"We want to do that for sure, absolutely," Allan said.

An aide to Allan said 99 speakers have registered to appear at the Bill 18 committee hearings, many in support. Allan pointed out the MTS not only supports the bill, it wants it strengthened.

Allan said when she was minister of labour, she held 28 hours of committee hearings on one act to ensure all speakers were heard.

By holding evening sessions and conducting several committee hearings on different pieces of legislation at the same time, the department should have time to get Bill 18 passed, Allan said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 2, 2013 A3

History

Updated on Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 6:58 AM CDT: replaces photo

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