(La version française du texte suit.)
With the staggering rise in anti-2SLGBTQQIA+ hate across Canada, what can we do to support 2SLGBTQQIA+ students and educators?
As a leading advocate for queer and trans communities, rights, health and safety in Canada, Fae discusses:
This episode was recorded on October 3, 2023.
Joignez-vous à Wes Delve de la CTF/FCE pour entendre ce que Fae Johnstone, de Wisdom2Action et de Society of Queer Momentum, a à dire sur la question.
En tant que défenseuse de première ligne des droits des communautés queers et trans au Canada, y compris leurs droits à une bonne santé et à la sécurité, Fae nous parle :
Cet épisode a été enregistré le 3 octobre 2023.
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In honour of reconciliation in education, we acknowledge that we have recorded this podcast on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe People. / Au nom de la vérité et de la réconciliation dans le monde de l’éducation, nous tenons à souligner que nous avons enregistré ce balado sur le territoire traditionnel non cédé du peuple anichinabé algonquin.
Follow us on social media / Suivez-nous dans les médias sociaux : Twitter @CTFFCE, Facebook @CTF.FCE, Instagram @ctffce.
Views expressed do not necessarily represent the policies nor the views of the CTF/FCE. / Les points de vue exprimés dans cet épisode ne représentent pas forcément les principes directeurs ou les points de vue de la CTF/FCE.
Nobody should be afraid to walk in their own, as their authentic selves, down their own street. And I believe in that better world, and I think most of us do as well. But we need to come together to make it happen, because that's what this dream of human rights really is all about.Wes Delve:
Hey there, and welcome back to your Source, connecting you to the stories behind Canada's education ecosystem. My name is Wes Delve, Program Officer with the CTF/FCE International and Social Justice Program, and it's my pleasure to bring you a new episode with trailblazing trans woman, queer advocate, and small business owner, Fae Johnstone. Fae is Co-Owner and Executive Director of Wisdom2Action, a national consulting firm specializing in community engagement, organizational development, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ inclusion. She is also President of the Society of Queer Momentum, a national 2SLGBTQQIA+ advocacy organization. And finally, she is also an outspoken activist. This episode discusses the harms of pronoun and chosen name policies in education across the country; how to support 2SLGBTQQIA+ students and educators; the fight for inclusive curricula; the need for policy change at all levels of government; Fae's own experiences as a defender of trans and women's rights, and so much more. We hope you enjoy our conversation with Fae. Hello Fae, and welcome to the podcast. It's great to reconnect with you today, as over the past couple of years, the CTF/FCE has had the pleasure of working with Wisdom2Action on two initiatives, Raising the Bar for 2SLGBTQ+ Youth and the Resource Toolkit on the Conversion Therapy Ban. So, to start us off, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and about the work of Wisdom2Action and Momentum Canada?Fae Johnstone:
Absolutely. And first, Wes, thank you so much for having me on. It's a pleasure to be here. And it's always an honor to support the work of CTF. To introduce myself, my name is Fae Johnstone, I use she and they pronouns, and I am a trans woman living and working on unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin Anishinaabe territory, colonially known as Ottawa. I, do a lot of queer and trans advocacy, both here locally in Ottawa and on the national level. I'm a writer, a organizer and a consultant as well. I am connected to two organizations those that you mentioned, so Wisdom2Action, a queer consulting firm and social enterprise that helps non profits, governments and on occasion the private sector scale up their work both within diversity, equity, and inclusion, and within community engagement and organizational development more broadly. On the other side, I'm the President of the Society of Queer Momentum, which is a new queer and trans advocacy organization, challenging stagnating government leadership on queer and trans issues, and working with communities to address the contemporary rise in anti 2SL2I+ hate.Wes Delve:
Great. Well, thank you so much for your work, Fae, and also for taking the time to join us today to speak about a very important topic, a topic that has become very prominent over the past few months. We have all recently seen threats to the safety of 2SLGBTQQIA staff and students, in schools across Canada. For example, Policy 713 in New Brunswick, proposed changes to the Manitoba Public Schools Act, school pronoun policy in Saskatchewan and Ontario, and even more. So let's talk pronouns. In your estimation, in what ways could pronoun and chosen name policies in education across the country be harmful or dangerous?Fae Johnstone:
That's a great question. And what we are seeing across the country right now should be a source of deep concern for anyone passionate about children's education, about school environments that help kids be their authentic selves. And schools where we actually use evidence to inform policymaking rather than a bludgeon of a slogan. So over the past few years, we've seen this staggering rise in anti 2SL2I+ hate all across Canada. And in the last three months, it's expressed itself in particular through this effort to roll back existing policies that protect the privacy and dignity of trans and gender diverse students. In particular, they've zeroed in on a trans student's right to use their chosen name and pronouns in the classroom. Now, what we know from the evidence is that trans students have a lot of mental health issues going on, they're more likely to be bullied, they're more likely to struggle. And unfortunately a lot of these kids don't have safe homes to go back to. We need to make sure that we're doing all we can to keep those kids safe, and to make sure parents are involved in these conversations. But what's happening right now is, we're seeing governments, instead of dealing with the nuance of the issue, saying that we're actually going to stop kids from being able to come out at school on their own terms. And what that does to those kids is it tells them that they don't have the right to be themselves at school, that they don't have the respect of their teachers, of their administrators, of their Parliamentarians to be who they know themselves to be. And so when you allow a kid an environment where they can figure out who they are, express themselves freely uh, we know that that helps that kid thrive and grow into a successful and happy adult. When you deny those things, as we're seeing in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, you contribute to a already so difficult and hostile social environment. You send a signal to all the bullies that are already bullying these kids that, yeah, no, maybe that's not a wrong thing to do. And you're telling these kids that they don't get to be who they are. And imagine what message that sends, and what impact that has on their mental health, on their performance, and their ability and desire to show up at school. And so it really is about making sure that all kids, including queer and trans kids, are able to be themselves at school, and that's what these policies that we've had for years are all about, and it's disappointing to see them politicized and attacked right now.Wes Delve:
That's excellent information. Thank you so much. So what exactly is the Facts Over Fear campaign and why was it launched?Fae Johnstone:
So a few moments ago, I mentioned this like bludgeon of a slogan and that slogan has been echoed by far right groups and those whose job is to launder hatred and bring it more into the public respectable sphere. And so it's this rhetoric around parental rights and this language around either gender ideology or grooming in the classroom. And I'm not going to say those terms again, because they don't deserve more attention. They're just empty slogans meant to generate fear. But what we've seen is as these far right groups target trans and gender diverse kids, we need a better response. We need to show to Canadians, to parents, to young folks, all across this country that there is a choice above and beyond accepting the disinformation that they are being targeted with right now. And so Facts Over Fear is our effort to clear the air, to get back to the basics, and that is creating schools where all kids are free to be their authentic selves. And I would argue that most Canadians be you a newcomer, be you somebody from a low wage job, be you a queer or trans person yourself, or a believer in a given faith, you believe that schools should be safe for all students to be themselves. And so the Facts Over Fear campaign is saying, we're gonna set their vitriol, and their sloganeering, and their misinformation aside, and we're gonna get back to making sure that all kids are safe in the classroom, and able to thrive academically and personally in every aspect of their lives.Wes Delve:
Absolutely. So, switching back to education, how can teachers and educators support 2SLGBTQQIA+ children and youth?Fae Johnstone:
I think we keep doing what our teachers and our education unions have been pushing for years. It is creating those spaces in the classroom where queer and trans students feel seen, where gender and sexuality isn't stigmatized and where we recognize that all students benefit from understanding the social environment that we walk within as a society. Now in some of these provinces, we are seeing the role of the teacher politicized or restricted by the government. So in New Brunswick, we've seen teachers being put in a position where government policy says one thing and their code of ethics, their moral obligations say something very different. And my message to those teachers is listen to your unions, but also be ready to stand up for those queer and trans kids in the classroom. Because as governments play politics with these kids' identities, those young folks are gonna need a caring adult, a teacher who supports them, even if they know that their government and maybe even their own parents aren't going to back them up in that moment.Wes Delve:
Very good observations. Can you talk about the importance of fighting for inclusive and comprehensive curricula for 2SLGBTQQIA+ children and youth?Fae Johnstone:
Absolutely. You know, we all get awkward during sex ed, that is a given. Someone who used to do some sex education work, we know that the world makes these topics hard to talk about. And that's why it's so important that we have education in our curricula, not just something a teacher desires to do, but that a teacher and a classroom has to do, to make sure that we're touching on gender and sexuality. And that's both about curricula that talks about gender identity and sexual orientation, but that's also about healthy decision making, about sexual health, about consent and bodily autonomy. And these elements of curricula, they need to make sure that they're reaching all students. And we know that the sexual health needs of a queer or trans student might actually look a little bit different. And so that's why we need an education curricula that both empowers students to make informed choices about their health and their bodies and who they are, and also provides the evidence based education so that when they encounter critical moments, when they are considering getting into a relationship or struggling with their sexual orientation, they have that solid foundation of fact to make those decisions through.Wes Delve:
I really appreciate that you talk about evidence based alternatives or choices when dealing with issues of curricula, et cetera, because when we base things in evidence, we have a lot more credibility to what we're trying to get accomplished. And that is just, I think, one of the most wonderful things that we can do. Now, as you know, the CTF/FCE is committed to ensuring publicly funded public education is welcoming and inclusive for all, and to having safe, gender affirming schools and adequate resources for teachers. So what initiatives can individuals and organizations take on to support and to advocate for the safety and inclusion of 2SLGBTQQIA+ staff and students across Canada?Fae Johnstone:
I think there are so many layers to this question and I'm gonna almost try to divide them. On one side you have the work in a given school, right? So that's as a teacher or an educator, maybe supporting your school's GSA, participating in Rainbow Weeks or making a note to remember the Trans Day of Remembrance or Trans Day of Visibility every year. So there's that work in the classroom, but then there's also that, that work within your peer group. So helping educate other teachers, helping share these promising and best practices. And I know so many teachers are already doing that. And now I think is the time to even scale that up because we're seeing this politicization of our identities. I think as well that teachers can play a role in combating disinformation. One of the scary things that's happening here is that far right groups are proliferating blatant lies, and they're trying to get to parents, especially in our smaller towns and communities. What that means is you might have a parent come in asking about, to quote one of the worst disinformation tropes, like litter boxes in the classroom. And this idea that kids are identifying as furries and being given these litter boxes. This is a far right hoax and has been disproven as such, but it still actually pops up sometimes, which shows you the power of disinformation. And so we need teachers who are equipped to manage those conversations. And to bring some common sense and foundation back to it. Because parents are being lied to and they are having their own, maybe lack of familiarity with trans people, or lack of knowledge around gender and sexual education in the classroom, weaponized as part of this far right movement. So I have my two pillars, and then I have my third. So the first one is keep doing what you do in the classroom. My second one is combat that disinfo and misinfo. And the third one really is, alongside your unions, alongside your communities, we need to rally against the, fear based policies that are being pushed in different provinces. And so that's about getting involved with local queer and trans organizations. And I know we've seen that in both New Brunswick and Saskatchewan where teachers and unions have tapped in. But we need to keep doing that work because what's under threat here, frankly, is not just inclusive schools for trans people but it's a question of who we want to be as a society. Do we want to be a country that welcomes diversity and difference and allows folks to be who they are in all of the ways that might express itself, or do we want to allow the stigmatization of an already vulnerable community? Do we want to allow far right groups to pit marginalized people against each other and to jeopardize our education through like culture war politics? I think we have the courage to choose the first and create schools where all kids can thrive.Wes Delve:
I couldn't agree more. You speak so eloquently about all of these matters and everything you say, it's exactly what the people out there need to hear in the current climate. So speaking of policies that address safety and ultimately give students the freedom to be their authentic selves. In your estimation, what are some of the interventions or policy changes that are needed on the federal, provincial, territorial, perhaps even municipal levels to ensure the safety of all 2SLGBTQQIA+ staff and students in our schools across Canada?Fae Johnstone:
I think that's a brilliant question, and I think on a local level, including both municipalities and school boards, and I guess on every level, we need to recognize that what happens in our schools is often an expression of broader social ideologies and social factors. But locally, I think what we can see would be school boards strengthening their local inclusion policies; making sure that they have plans in place to scale the capacity of educators and all those in a school to provide inclusive and safe environments to trans and gender diverse students. That can include strengthening partnerships with local Planned Parenthoods, or with local queer and trans organizations, so that if a kid is having a hard time, they have access to supports, and to think through the parent involvement question, cause we do need to make sure that if a kid does come out and isn't ready to come out to their parents, but is out at school, that we have the mechanisms on a local level to help us strengthen that family relationship so that everyone is able to be on the same page and supported in their school and family context. So that's the local and municipal school board context. On a provincial level, I mean, A) do the exact opposite of what Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are now trying to do, which is steam roll over nuanced policies that have had no indication of any issue within them. And instead of developing policies with the kind of care that a province should do, which is chat with parents, chat with students, maybe consult somebody who has a background in children's rights. So instead of doing any of the things that those two particular provinces are doing, what I would invite is for provincial ministries of education to actually put resources in place to support the professional development of teachers on queer and trans inclusion, to look at how they can address the whole continuum of needs that a young person might have. So that, again, there's support for that parent who's having a hard time or for that teen who, in a heartbreaking situation, may have been kicked out of their house. And so ministries can set standards, they can fund capacity development, they can help ensure those wraparound supports are available, and yes, they can actually review existing policies to make sure that they're strengthened, that they're nuanced, and that they address the needs of all students in an evidence based manner. Federally, it becomes a whole other conversation. As we know, education is largely a provincial and school board level matter. But I think it is time for our federal government to recognize that the hate that we're seeing right now is not an anomaly, and is indeed an existential threat to our belief in human rights, in equality, and an inclusive Canada. And so my invitation federally is to ramp up and recognize that this hate isn't going anywhere, that it's not a coincidence, and we need partners across all of society if we're going to maintain our impression of ourselves as a country that is inclusive, and actually, I think, proud to be inclusive of our track record on queer and trans people's human rights, inclusion, and overall equality.Wes Delve:
Those are our brilliant suggestions and really incredible calls to action. Thank you for sharing those. So we're going to switch the focus back to you. What does it mean for you to be a human rights defender and, more specifically, a defender of trans rights?Fae Johnstone:
To me, it is a call to action and I don't like the term duty to serve, but, it's almost like I can't imagine... we have so many crises going on in this world right now, and our trans kids and our trans communities are being attacked by political behemoths. And my community is still having a hard time, I'm still having a hard time navigating the hate that comes my way for doing this work. But I'm also in a position where I can, and there's an immense privilege to that. And so to me, there is a need for more voices out there. And it is really about recognizing that defending trans people's human rights and queer people's human rights is part of building that better future for everybody, because no kid deserves to be kicked out of their home because they're trans. No person should live in poverty because they're queer and can't get a job. Nobody should be afraid to walk in their own, as their authentic selves, down their own street. And I believe in that better world, and I think most of us do as well. But we need to come together to make it happen, because that's what this dream of human rights really is all about.Wes Delve:
Trans rights are human rights.Fae Johnstone:
And that's exactly it.Wes Delve:
So on the topic of being a defender of human rights, the CTF/FCE is pleased to release new Speak Truth to Power lesson plans on youth defenders for human rights in Canada, and we also have a Student Voice Booklet on Affirming Gender Diversity. As you have mentioned, it's important to have resources in schools to support educators and educational settings to support people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. So that said, what additional resources or tools are you aware of that are available for educators?Fae Johnstone:
I mean there was this wonderful product that we pulled together with CTF, Raising the Bar on 2SL2I+ Inclusion. I would encourage folks to take a peek at that. I would also encourage folks to do some looking into like disinformation and misinformation; I would say that there are a few organizations working in that space, including the Canadian Anti Hate Network. But I know that there is more being developed, so, take a little bit of time and try to do more than read the headlines on some of the misinformation and disinformation out there, because it's not enough to say we're not grooming kids because they're gonna spin that and they're already captured by misinfo and conspiracy. We need to think through response that brings some care and that help folks invite a conversation to really unpack what people's worries, anxieties, and needs are. And so that's not a resource; maybe I'm really big on my calls to action, maybe it's more of that. But it really is just equipping ourselves to step into these convos, because one of the best ways that we meet this moment, when we're facing a political behemoth and disinformation is to chat with one another and get back to what's really going on and common sense in the classroom and policies that let all kids thrive. We need to get that message out there, and that would be one of the biggest wins we could get right now.Wes Delve:
Concentrating on the facts, instead of the fear.Fae Johnstone:
Facts over fear, and, again, recognizing, like, teachers, young people, families, we're all trying to achieve the same thing. And there isn't some conspiracy underpinning this, it is really about... Nuanced, evidence based policies that are customized to the needs of a given young person and implemented through the brilliant teachers that we have in our classrooms all across this country.Wes Delve:
The way you speak makes me so happy because these are exactly the messages that the people out there need to hear. So I want to thank you for sharing those ideas and we'll be sure to include any appropriate links to what you've suggested in the description for this particular episode. So before we wrap up, do you have anything else that you'd like to add? Any final thoughts that I might not have asked you about?Fae Johnstone:
I think what I would say is there's a lot of fear and hurt out there right now. And I think, that makes sense. People are scared. We are worried around this, like, culture war crisis that seems to be upon us. And a lot of folks are worried about how far this can go. How far could we roll back? How much scarier could we get? And it's good to be a little bit worried about that. I'm not minimizing the fear by any means. But on the flip side, I think that the far right wants us to be scared. They want us to be demoralized cause that makes us demotivated. And at the end of the day I know that we will win. And I want everyone to hear that with me, because it's easy to lose sight. We have come so far on queer and trans rights in 20 years. Imagine how much further we will be in 20 more. And so I am going to be singing and celebrating and dancing my way to that better tomorrow, because I know that we will win. I know that we will meet this moment. And while it's scary out there, I know that we're not alone in this fight because our allies, our parents, our teachers, our young people, and people all around this country will come together in the belief that we all deserve the space to be our free and authentic selves.Wes Delve:
I love it. I love it. I'd really like to thank you, Fae, not just for being with us today for this podcast, but more importantly for your bravery, your dedication, your passion and your energy, and your leadership where trans and women's rights are concerned. Here at the CTF/FCE, we are honoured to count you among our Youth Defenders for Human Rights in Canada, and we are also very proud to be accompanying you, albeit in some small way, on your very courageous journey. So thank you. Thank you for everything.Fae Johnstone:
Thanks so much, Wes. It's always a pleasure. And thank you to our listeners for tuning in for this conversation. Onwards and upwards, everybody.Wes Delve:
Thank you for joining us for this episode with Fae Johnstone. To learn more, be sure to check out the show notes for links to Momentum Canada's Facts Over Fear campaign, the new Fae Johnstone gender diversity lesson plan from the Speak Truth to Power Youth Defenders for Human Rights in Canada series, the CTF/FCE's Affirming Gender Diversity Student Voice Booklet, and Wisdom2Action's Raising the Bar for 2SLGBTQ+ Youth Resources. Thank you for tuning in to your Source.