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New Brunswick reviewing policy on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools

FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's Green Party is raising questions about the provincial government's decision to review the province's policy on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
David Coon, leader of the New Brunswick Green Party, reacts to the budget delivered by Finance Minister Ernie Steeves in Fredericton on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen MacGillivray

FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's Green Party is raising questions about the provincial government's decision to review the province's policy on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. 

Party leader David Coon issued a statement Tuesday saying he was concerned when he learned Education Minister Bill Hogan is considering changes to the policy.

“We are talking about some of the most vulnerable young people in our province," Coon said. "Their schools must continue to be safe and affirming spaces."

The policy, introduced in 2020 and known as Policy 713, is aimed at ensuring there is a supportive school environment for students, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. It remains unclear when the government started its review.

On Friday, Hogan issued a statement distancing the provincial government from a professional development session held that day to help teachers implement the policy in the classroom.

Hogan said he wanted to explain his department's role after the government received "a number of calls with concerns" regarding the workshop for teachers. The minister said the session was organized by the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, and he referred all questions to the union.

"Instead of standing with his teachers," Coon said, "minister Hogan chose to release a statement late Friday afternoon distancing himself from the … workshop that was held for teachers."

Connie Keating, president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, also took aim at Hogan's comments.

"Feelings of dismay and disappointment in our government's leadership would be an understatement," Keating said in a statement Saturday. "Teachers needed (Hogan) to step up and support them … to stand with them against hate and misinformation. Instead, we face it alone."

New Brunswick's Education Department did not respond to a request for an interview.

Keating said the Policy 713 session was one of 200 sessions offered to teachers Friday. "Unfortunately, misinformation and hate that was circulated on social media resulted in protesters appearing at one of our locations with signs such as, 'Shame on teachers' and 'Perverts in education," she said.

Keating said protesters hurled hateful comments at the government, teachers and members of the LGBTQ community. "We have been aware of this kind of hate towards teachers and public education being perpetuated online across North America for some time," she said.

Liberal Leader Susan Holt accused the Progressive Conservative government of abandoning students and teachers.

"By initiating this review, the government has put 2SLGBTQIA+ students and educators at risk for targeted harassment, violence and left them wondering if they will have a safe place in our education system," she said in a statement Monday.

Meanwhile, Chief Allan Polchies Jr. of the Sitansisk First Nation issued a statement saying he will "not stand by and watch the Higgs government water down these protections."

Polchies, who in 2018 became the first openly LGBTQ chief elected in Atlantic Canada, said he was shocked when he learned about the recent protest. The government's response was "the equivalent of striking a match at a fuel spill," Polchies said. “Instead of protecting valued but vulnerable members of our families, this government capitulated to a small group of conspiracists."

The six-page Policy 713 says school staff must create a culture where LGBTQ students "see themselves and their lives positively reflected in the school environment."

More specifically, the policy calls on all schools to: 

— provide professional learning opportunities to school personnel to understand and support the needs of LGBTQ students; 

— provide all students with access to washrooms "that align with their gender identity";

— report all homophobic and transphobic language, behaviour or discrimination to the principal;

— ensure that classroom materials and activities contain positive and accurate information related to sexual orientation and gender identities;

— strive to use inclusive and gender-neutral language when communicating with members of the school environment;

— choose a member of the school to act as an advocate for students who identify as LGBTQ and their families;

—  require school personnel to consult with transgender or non-binary students to determine their preferred first name and pronouns.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2023.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

The Canadian Press

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