Recent efforts by New Brunswick’s Premier Blaine Higgs and his Minister of Education, Bill Hogan, to claw back hard-earned advances on LGBTQ+ rights recently surfaced after the minister received three complaints from the public about a focused professional development session designed by Pride In Education to assist teachers in their understanding of the needs of queer kids.
One of these sessions was on NB Department of Education Policy 713, also called the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity policy. Upon receiving less than a handful of complaints on the content of Policy 713, the government began a review. It then withdrew funding for the session and announced that changes impacting queer kids and their experiences in school would be forthcoming. It was devastating.
Support for Pride in Education and the clientele it serves was immediate and loud. The changes rendered trans kids especially vulnerable. The revised policy is now in place. The struggle by PIE and its allies continues.
So what is Pride In Education?
In the late winter of 2008, Dr. Gordon Porter, then Chair of the NB Human Rights Commission, contacted me to gauge my interest in chairing a one day professional development program designed to familiarize and sensitize educators to the particular needs of LGBTQ+ children in their care for nearly 200 days a year. At the time I was a high school teacher in Woodstock. Of course, trans individuals were barely, if at all, on the radar at this time. Dr. Porter also offered to bring in Canada’s pre-eminent queer rights activist, Carleton County born, Order of Canada recipient, Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes as keynote speaker.
I gratefully accepted the invitation to chair the event and on April 17, 2009, Jane Porter (then chair of the NBTA Secondary Council and the person responsible for forging the partnership between the Council and the NB Human Rights Commission) and I co-hosted the event.
Rev. Hawkes’ keynote presentation was a riveting and passionate call-to-action. “What are you going to do?” he asked teachers as he closed his anecdote-filled session. I invited any teachers interested in formalizing their commitment to queer kids to meet after the day’s sessions had closed.
From that meeting sprang Pride In Education (PIE); myself and Shawn Corey would serve as co-chairs. We and Jillian Walton, Judy Piers Kavanaugh, Jackie Desmeules, Peter Gorham and Peter Papoulidis were PIE's first Board of Directors.
Our immediate goal was to promote the establishment of GSAs (then known as Gay Straight Alliances) across the province. At the time, there was only two, but within 3 years there were 20+ GSAs, largely in the southern part of the province.
The founding of PIE coincided with the 2009 NB Human Rights Award being given by Dr. Porter to the WHS (Woodstock High School) girls’ hockey team for “confronting homophobia in the community and on the ice.” Several of the girls were members of the WHS Gay Straight Alliance. Rev. Dr. Hawkes was honored with the NB Pioneer of Human Rights at this time as well.
Pride in Education quickly established annual conferences called PIE CONs. High schools throughout N.B. participate in this fun and educational conference where youth get to meet other like-minded individuals and where educators have the opportunity to network with other GSA advisors.
We're not done defending 713; our work continues.