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Teachers support adding sexual-orientation themes to all curricula

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Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson says a handful of school divisions in the province are 'showing leadership' on teaching gay issues.

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Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson says a handful of school divisions in the province are 'showing leadership' on teaching gay issues. Photo Store

Heads up, Education Minister Nancy Allan -- there's a really, really hot potato on the way.

The Manitoba Teachers' Society waited until Saturday, the third day of its annual general meeting, to approve the most significant education-policy issue on its agenda -- demanding the province reflect sexual-orientation issues in all education curricula.

"There shouldn't be these tiered realities," society president Paul Olson said Sunday. "Part of this is looking for permission to do what the teacher knows the kids need to hear.

"We don't want to lose our jobs and our mortgages and our kids' braces," Olson said. Kids want and need to hear about reality, and teachers need to know the provincial government has their backs, he said.

The resolution 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."

A student who has two dads should be able to talk about that in class and see that reflected back in curricula as one of life's realities, Olson said. "You shouldn't have a teacher sitting there saying, 'Oh s , now what do I say?' "

'For people who are losing their minds and freaking out and thinking it's the end of the world, it's the Department of Education's programs'

-- Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson

Olson said it is timely: "We're seeing homophobia and trans-phobia," he said.

The teachers' society president said teachers are not asking for an "absurd" immediate and massive overhaul of every individual curriculum. These themes could be incorporated when curricula and curricular resources undergo regular review, he said.

As for anyone who's opposed, it's up to the Department of Education and the Selinger government to accept the teachers' society proposal, Olson said.

"For people who are losing their minds and freaking out and thinking it's the end of the world, it's the Department of Education's programs," he pointed out.

Kids don't live in a Leave it to Beaver world, he said, but teachers need to know they can reflect the real world without worrying what the school board will do to their careers.

"There are divisions showing leadership on this," such as the Winnipeg and Louis Riel school divisions, Olson said.

A music teacher, Olson said he's seen many essays about how many children Bach had, but none that acknowledged Tchaikovsky was gay and how that and his society's attitudes might have affected his music.

History courses don't tell students that until recently, being homosexual was illegal and gays and lesbians faced severe punishment under the law, he said.

Even an advanced math class studying string theory might discuss how British mathematician Alan Turing was driven to suicide when his homosexuality was made public: "That would be central to a very powerful math class conversation," said Olson.

Following the provincial education curricula is mandatory for Manitoba's public and private schools.

Allan has said the province would be willing to listen if the teachers' society introduces the proposal.

Allan is already embroiled in controversy over just one provision within the anti-bullying Bill 18 she hopes to enact before classes start in September.

The 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 the legislation.

Numerous groups say Bill 18 violates religious freedom.

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.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2013 A3

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