NB reviews gender-identity policy in schools as supporters accuse ministers of caving to anti-LGBTQ pressure

The Higgs government in New Brunswick says it is rethinking its school policy on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools because of a backlash against the guidelines.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development confirmed it’s reviewing the policy, designed to support gay, lesbian and trans youth, “after hearing concerns and misunderstandings of its implementation.”

The review was already underway before Education Minister Bill Hogan distanced himself and his department from a recent sexual orientation and gender identity learning session for teachers.

After a small crowd protested the session last Friday, Hogan issued a statement saying his department had nothing to do with the event.

He urged people with questions to contact the New Brunswick Teachers Association.

  Man wearing glasses and a goatee stands in from reporters at the legislature.
Education Minister Bill Hogan issued a statement on Friday putting distance between his department and the training session for teachers. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Now teachers, parents and others are accusing him of caving in to hate and putting teachers in an unsafe working environment.

“It would appear that they yielded to the pressure of the protesters,” said Gail Costello, a co-chair of Pride in Education, a non-profit group of educators who helped organize the session.

“We would expect that they would show leadership, stand on the right side of history, stand up for teachers and stand up for kids, but that’s not what happened. They threw the NBTA under the bus.”

Costello said Hogan’s statement is also inaccurate because the department was directly involved in supporting the sessions, including by funding planning meetings at the departmental offices.

She said that in late April, however, the department told Pride in Education that there’s to be no money for the sessions and it ordered departmental staff not to participate because the gender identity policy was under review.

Part of last Friday’s program was to familiarize teachers with the sexual orientation and gender identity policy, Policy 713, so they’d know how to implement it in their classrooms.

WATCH | ‘They just yielded to their pressure,’ says the co-chair of Pride in Education:

The minister accused of throwing teachers ‘under the bus’ after the training session was targeted by protest

Pride in Education’s Gail Costello said she expected better from the Department of Education.

The department did not make Hogan available for an interview Monday.

In a new statement, spokesperson Morgan Bell said the Education Department did not “condone the tactics that were directed at our teachers and we will always ensure human rights are protected.”

She said the implementation of Policy 713 “revealed instances where the policy is perhaps too broad and/or unclear” and that was the reason for the review.

The policy, in effect since 2020, lays out minimum requirements for school districts to create a safe, welcoming learning environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and two-spirited students.

It says students have the right to self-identify and express themselves without fear of consequence, and teachers must create a school culture where students “see themselves and their lives positively reflected.”

The policy allows students to choose which pronouns apply to them and requires teachers to respect their choice. It lets them establish gender-sexuality alliance groups without requiring parental consent or notification.

It also says each school must have at least one gender-neutral bathroom.

A man with short blond hair in a gray suit stands outside on a neighborhood sidewalk.
Former education minister Dominic Cardy says he’s been told by contacts within the government the review was ordered by the premier. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Costello believes the review is almost certainly aimed at removing some of those protections, which will begin rolling out in 2021.

“This is not an educational best practice. There’s nobody out there who has any educational expertise who would want this review, unless they’re planning to review it to make it stronger for these marginalized kids, which I doubt is what’s happening,” she said .

“It’s very common to review policies after 10 or 12 years. This is a year and a half. Why are they reviewing it after a year and half?”

NBTA president Connie Keating said Monday that Policy 713 was crafted through “ongoing conversations and dialogue” and “we expect the same would be said of any policy review.”

Former education minister Dominic Cardy said he’s been told by contacts in government that the policy review was directed by Premier Blaine Higgs personally.

Cardy said he signed the policy in 2020, and Higgs raised questions about the policy soon afterward, but the Progressive Conservative caucus supported it and the premier did not act on it at the time.

He said the premiere’s role is the only possible explanation for the sudden decision to “roll back a policy that was years in the making” and that has been in effect for a couple of years “without any incident.”

A spokesperson for Higgs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A woman with long dark hair and glasses stands outside in front of a house.
Fredericton parent Nicole Bethune said Policy 713 has allowed her non-binary child to feel safe and worries their mental health will suffer. (Jacques Poitra/CBC)

Fredericton parent Nicole Bethune said Policy 713 has allowed her non-binary child to feel safe at their elementary school.

“It means it’s not up for debate. Their pronouns have to be accepted in school,” she said.

“The principals, their support figures, their teachers, their guidance counselors, they have to report if they see hate and discrimination and they have to act on it.”

She said she’s concerned that will change.

“By him clawing back these policies, the worry is we’re going to have mental health issues that we’ve had previously, when we haven’t had the support that we currently have in school.”

Bethune agreed with Cardy that the backlash is partly the result of US political debates seeing across the border on cable television and social media.

“Anybody who’s from the community has seen this coming,” she said. “We’ve been watching for it.”

Costello questioned whether the government will also rethink a new curriculum on gender identity and trans issues for the province’s schools.

A photo on Facebook shows about 20 or 30 people outside the Hanwell Park school Friday where the session took place. Some of them carried placards.

Hogan’s statement, sent out at 5:32 pm Friday, said the department received “a number of calls with concerns” about the professional development sessions, which he said were organized by the province’s anglophone and francophone teacher organizations.

“These sessions are not organized by the provincial government and any questions regarding these sessions should be directed to the respective organizations,” the statement said.

A woman with dark hair and glasses sits in front of a computer screen.
NBTA president Connie Keating sent a letter to the education minister accusing him of abandoning school staff. (Jacques Poitras/Zoom)

The statement does not express any support for sessions on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Keating respondent Saturday with a letter to Hogan accusing the minister of abandoning school staff.

“Teachers need you to step up and support them,” Keating wrote. “To educate. To stand with them against hate and misinformation.
“Instead, we face it alone.”

Bell’s statement on Monday said the department had received “multiple inquiries” and issued the Friday release to clarify that the NBTA “hosted and planned” the event.

Keating said Monday afternoon the new statement criticizing the protest tactics was an improvement on Friday’s statement, but “it’s three days too late. … What happened Friday, that is the message that they should have released at that time.”

She said the protestors had “significant fears that were based on misinformation,” and the province missed an opportunity to explain the policy while defending it and the teachers.

“No one should have to face any kind of hate while doing their job in this province,” she said.

The department’s new statement was clearly the result of the NBTA and Pride in Education pushing back over the weekend, Keating added.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s coming late. They had an opportunity to state the facts Friday evening and they chose not to.”

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