Lesson Planning – Minds On Activity for gender identity and sexual orientation
Explaining gender identity and sexual orientation to your students can be difficult. Where to begin? How do you introduce the topic? How do you make it personally relevant to all of your students? There is a great minds on activity to help students understand how societal and cultural expectations make it difficult to define gender identity and sexual orientation, and hopefully help students move away from many assumed binaries that exist in gender and sexuality.
1. Ask students to get into pairs.
2. If you have access to a projector and screen (or SMART board), place two images of two “opposing” objects, such as a camp fire and waterfall, or a beach and a snowy mountain (you can also print the two images and pass them around the room).
3. Tell students that they have one to two minutes to choose which image reflects them best overall. They then have two minutes each to share their reasoning for choosing the image with their partner.
4. After students share their image and reasoning with a partner, ask the class if anyone had difficulty choosing one image. Ask them why. (Most students will likely say that they felt that neither applied, or they related to both).
5. Explain that the two images are metaphors for gender and sexuality binaries we often use in our day-to-day understanding of gender and sexuality. Oftentimes, we have to “choose” to identify as either male or female (e.g. medical forms, washrooms). Also, when we think about sexuality/sexual orientation, the two most “commonly” discussed orientations is straight and gay/lesbian. There is a huge spectrum of gender identity and sexuality/sexual orientation. Just like choosing an image to describe oneself, people sometimes have a hard time defining which gender and/or sexual identity suits them – sometimes one fits perfectly well, sometimes multiple identities apply, and sometimes they change over time.
Relevant specific expectations from the Ontario’s Health and Physical Education curricula
Grade 6: C1.3 identify factors that affect the development of a person’s self-concept (e.g., environment, evaluations by others who are important to them, stereotypes, awareness of strengths and needs, social competencies, cultural and gender identity, support, body image, mental health and emotional well-being, physical abilities)
Grade 8: C1.5 demonstrate an understanding of gender identity (e.g., male, female, two-spirited, transgender, transsexual, intersex), gender expression, and sexual orientation (e.g., heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual), and identify factors that can help individuals of all identities and orientations develop a positive self-concept
Grade 9: C1.5 demonstrate an understanding of factors (e.g., acceptance, stigma, culture, religion, media, stereotypes, homophobia, self-image, self-awareness) that can influence a person’s understanding of their gender identity (e.g., male, female, two-spirited, transgender, transsexual, intersex) and sexual orientation (e.g., heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual), and identify sources of support for all students
Grade 10: C3.4 describe some common misconceptions about sexuality in our culture, and explain how these may cause harm to people and how they can be responded to critically and fairly
One of the biggest controversies about sexual health education (SHE) at the K-12 level is just that - the fact that it is taught in school. Some claim it's inappropriate - this is not the sort of subject that should be taught in schools. Others think it's up to parents to teach their children SHE. The list goes on.
I'm going to focus on the two aforementioned arguments against SHE at the K-12 level (even though there are plenty of others). Firstly, I personally think that offering SHE at school is one of the most relevant places to offer it. When you go through teachers college or any formal training to become a teacher, we often discuss the concept of the "Whole Student". As teachers, we have the moral obligation to ensure that every aspect of our students is nurtured and supported - this includes their physical, mental, psychological, emotional, social and academic well-being. Sexuality impacts each aspect of students' identity. Physically: one word - puberty. Mentally/psychologically/emotionally: it is very normal for children, as early as pre-school age, to have questions about their sexuality. Kids are curious and develop at different stages, and sexual development has (positive and negative) influences on one's mental, psychological, and emotional states. Socially: A student who identifies as trans, for example, may be faced with transphobia and as a result, would likely experience challenging social conflicts with their peers. Academically: Continuing from the previous example, if the same student is bullied during their transition, their academics will likely suffer because of their emotional distress (related to my previous point) from having a challenging social life, which is a very important part of childhood/adolescence (though it is important to note that there are many other factors that contribute to emotional distress during transitioning). My point here is that sexuality is part of an enormous, complex web that we call Identity, and we cannot selectively choose to ignore one part of our students' identity when it has such a powerful impact on other aspects of their identity and life in general - both inside and outside the classroom.
With regards to parents teaching SHE, Planned Parenthood Toronto - in partnership with other organizations - conducted the Toronto Teen Survey in 2010 (see link/document attached below). This was one of their findings:
That's right, youth (participants were 13-18 years old) were least likely to ask their parents (28%) about sex-related questions. They were more most likely to ask their siblings, call an information line or speak to a semi-professional (55%), followed by friends (53%), professionals (such as doctors and nurses, 43%), and the media (33%). This is not to say that parents should not have any conversations about sexual health with their kids - in fact, SHE is much more effective if parents continue the conversation at home with their kids. Many of the SHE teachers I know often send an email home before their SHE unit outlining the topics they will be covering and encourage families to talk about those subjects before, during and after the unit.
In Ontario, SHE is part of Health and Physical Education. The purpose of Health Education is to help students make healthy choices. It's about giving youth the autonomy and agency to make their own educated and well-informed decisions. We cannot stop development, we cannot ignore questions and hope they go away. Teachers have a responsibility to fulfill, to make sure that their students are healthy in every part of their lives. Sexual health included.
"Love Has Won."
Today marks a significant point in American history. Finally, in the year 2015, marriage equality exists in all 50 states. It truly fills me with joy to see all the news coverage of happy, celebratory members of the LGBTQ community and allies during this special time.
Although most of the news I have read/watched is in support of this change in American law, I think it is important to note that "same sex marriage" is a politically incorrect term. If we unpack this term, "marriage" is predicated by "same sex". By placing "same sex" in front of "marriage", we are unintentionally perpetuating heteronormativity in relationships, or more specifically marriage. According to Canadian (and now American) law, marriage is not reserved only for a man and woman. Any two people can marry - regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
A "same sex marriage" is not different from a "marriage". As such, it is important to use the term "marriage equality" when referring to the right of marrying someone of the same sex.
"Today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we made our union a little more perfect."
Recently, I was spending time with my six year old cousin who is full of adventure, thought, and imagination. She introduced me to a game that involves moving a toy car around a game board. Of course you need people in a car to drive it, so you can choose a character to be the driver and another character to be the passenger. She told me to choose two characters - one for the driver's seat, and one for the passenger. I took a female character and placed her in the driver's seat, and then I placed a male character in the passenger seat. It wasn't a conscious choice - in fact, I didn't know the characters had sexes until my cousin told me so. But my cousin was quite confused by my placement of the people in the car.
"The boy should drive, not the girl," my cousin said as she promptly switched the two characters in the car.
"Why can't the girl drive?" I asked.
"Because boys are better drivers than girls."
I paused for a moment to try and gather my thoughts - how do I explain gender roles to a six year old? I was also a bit shocked to see gender role stereotypes so prominent at such a young age.
I thought this was an excellent learning opportunity. I first took a humourous approach - I told her that I was a much better driver than most of my guy friends. She was intrigued. I then asked her if she thinks her mom is a good driver, and she said yes. She finally started to realize that girls are good drivers too!
I think that you can approach any topic related to gender, gender roles, sexuality and so on in an age-appropriate way. As long as the conversation is relevant and meaningful, you can make powerful, positive educational experiences that hopefully makes a difference in peoples' lives.
There are many misconceptions about Ontario's 2015 Sexual Health Education curricula, especially for Grades 1-8. I have read dozens upon dozens of articles about the new curricula, I have seen newscasts about the new curricula, I have talked to parents, teachers, and principals - and most of what I hear is inaccurate.
I came across an amazing resource developed by People For Education that clarified a lot of the erroneous beliefs about the new curricula. You can check out the link below or open the file attached.
Toronto Public Health released data from their first ever comprehensive school-based survey (full the full Toronto Public Health Student Survey report, see here: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2015/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-76820.pdf).
I wanted to highlight some of their findings that relate to students' sexual orientation and gender:
"Students who reported their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, other, or unsure reported poorer self-rated health and were more likely to be bullied than heterosexual students."
"Sixteen percent (16%) of grade 7 to 12 students had ever tried a cigarette, and 5% of students had smoked in the last 30 days. Although these numbers indicate that tobacco use is lower than it has been in the past, it is still problematic, particularly in some specific populations of Toronto students, such as certain ethno-racial groups and students who report their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, other, or not sure."
"The Student Survey report also highlights inequities in health in the Toronto student population. For many important indicators, particularly those related to mental health, girls are faring worse than boys. Compared to boys, girls reported lower levels of self-rated health and self-esteem. Girls reported feeling “too fat” more than boys, and reported higher levels of emotional anxiety, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and having been bullied. Girls were also less likely to be physical active and more susceptible to smoking."
This study shows that students' sexual orientation and gender (identity) is related to health outcomes; students who identify as LGBTQ+ are being bullied more frequently, engage in elevated levels of substance abuse, and have lower self-esteem. We have to stop ourselves to ask - why are these trends emerging? What can we do as teachers, parents, and guardians to make our students/children feel safer and make healthier choices?
There are many different ways to navigate these issues. I think the most important first step is to have open and honest conversations with your students/children and discuss their options if they feel that they are struggling and do not know how to express their struggles in a healthy way (e.g. extra-curricular activities, therapy). This sort of conversation should not be a one-time only event, rather it should be ongoing and continuous. It may be intimidating as an adult to open up the discourse with your students/children directly; there are many movies and TV shows that discuss with these issues, and using a familiar platform like movies and television should help initiate a conversation. A couple that immediately come to mind include Degrassi and Glee. You can play a clip from an episode, or an entire episode, and have a discussion about what happened and it is likely that your students/children will make a personal connection. They may not admit it outright, but it will get them thinking and hopefully will allow them to open up to you, another trusted adult, or a friend.
Feel free to comment below if you have helped a student/child who experienced negative health outcomes because of their sexual orientation or gender.