Shawn Rouse worries about all three of his children, but a recent letter that shows the education department is reviewing a sexual orientation and gender-diversity policy, has him even more worried about one of them.
Levi, who is in high school, is transgender and has been bullied by his fellow students.
“Sometimes it’s mild and sometimes it’s more overt, it’s very overt and aggressive,” he said in an interview. “Just this past weekend for example someone reached out to Levi and told them they should kill themselves.”
For him, Policy 713 — which ensures schools create inclusive, gender-affirming and safe spaces for LGBTQ2 students — was something the education department did right.
“Having protections in place, like those in Policy 713, allows Levi to be in a public setting where they are affirmed as the gender they are and they don’t have to hide,” he said.
There are political movements in the United States to ban gender-affirming care and drag shows, but Rouse said children and transgender youths should not be political footballs.
He said even the idea of questioning the validity of the policy that protects students like Levi opens the door to mental health issues and more of the bullying his son has already experienced.
“It boggles my mind why they would be looking at reviewing this now,” he said. “It’s simply good care for our students, it shows them we love them, it shows them we accept them, it makes them feel normal,” Rouse said.
The letter noting a review
The review wasn’t made public until Pride in Education shared a press letter signed by Deputy Minister Ryan Donaghy.
The letter was sent originally because PIE had been denied funding for a professional development session on Policy 713, something it said it had received before from the department.
“Additionally, it is the government’s intention to review policy 713 given recent misinterpretations and concerns brought forward,” the letter reads.
On Friday, Education Minister Bill Hogan said he was not responsible for funding professional development, adding that he was under the review of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association, after a small protest took place outside the session on May 5.
Images show people holding signs that said “no SOGI ed” and “shame on teachers” in relation to the 713 policy.
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“These sessions are not organized by the provincial government and any questions regarding these sessions should be directed to the respective organizations,” the statement read.
Hogan was also asked about what motivated the decision to review the policy, including whether a small group of protesters at the professional development session on May 5 had influenced that decision.
“They’re not trying to push me on policy, we’re going to look at what’s reasonable and how we can marry the two things together and we’ll move forward that way,” Hogan said.
‘Confusion on how that goes together’
On Tuesday, the minister doubled down on the funding request, saying he’d never seen a request from PIE for the session on policy 713.
When asked why the department was reviewing it, he said it was not about the policy, but the curriculum.
“We have a curriculum, personal growth and development, and we’ve got a policy for SOGI … if I can use that terminology to create safe spaces and there is confusion on how that goes together,” he said, adding the review would determine if there were issues with either side.
He said the review had been ongoing for a few months, and would remain under review for a few more, but said he would protect the rights of all students.
“As we move through this early implementation phase, we want to make sure we get it right,” he said.
He said he heard from both parents and teachers on policy 713.
“Teachers want clarity on it so that they are teaching the curriculum properly,” he said.
PIE said in a statement Hogan’s failure to stand with teachers against hate and misinformation “is inexcusable.”
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