Children, their teachers and sexual diversity

Three weeks ago, the Florida Senate passed legislation banning elementary school teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in class. It got me thinking: How do we talk about these issues with students under 10 in Quebec?

Posted at 9:00 am

The law — “don’t say gay” by its critics — would allow impromptu discussions between teachers and students, but would ban the teaching of subjects related to LGBTQ+ issues in public elementary schools. I experienced an approach opposite to that taken in Quebec.

If we’ve talked a lot about sex education classes since her return in 2018, I have to admit I didn’t know the exact terms… Sexologist Julie Lemay, record holder for sex education at a South Shore service center, kindly explained everything to me.

First clarification: learning is determined by a team of sexologists and health experts, then its development is determined by the Ministry of Education in a way that respects children’s development.

For example, starting in pre-school, we particularly address the expression of feelings. in 1concerning year we talk about gender roles and stereotypes; in 2e year we explore interpersonal relationships; in the 3rde, the influence of stereotypes; in the 4theRepresentations of love and friendship etc.

(We’re still a long way from the lessons I got; I’m still traumatized by the teacher who told me that giving birth was like pulling an orange out of your nostril.)

For each topic addressed, those responsible for sex education receive a document called “Educational Framework” with suggestions for action, reading material and videos for their students.

For example, among the proposed content is a great poster by Élise Gravel that illustrates the different families that you can meet.

This benevolent approach embodies a cultural shift in Quebec.

Julie Descheneaux teaches the course Sexuality Education in School and Society: Needs and Issues at UQAM. In their opinion, the program implemented since 2018 tends to move us from a reactive strategy to a proactive one. Instead of waiting for a student to ask a question or express their discomfort, we set the table for nice discussions…


PHOTO MARTIN CHAMBERLAND, THE PRESS

Julie Descheneaux

The framework guides us to talk about homophobia and transphobia before these issues crystallize among the students. And we don’t exactly name these words in 2e Year ! We talk more about sexual stereotypes; young people are reminded that anyone can play with any toy or that a friend’s parents can be different from us.

Julie Descheneaux, Professor at UQAM

Educational canvases are also useful in everyday life. Julie Lemay gives me an example of a teacher reciting syllables to her students. The children laughed when they heard the syllable “ford”. The teacher took the opportunity to pull out her canvas on sexual diversity and dive into the topic…

A reflex that, according to the sexologist, is part of a necessary social project.

“By providing sex education, we ensure that all young people in Quebec have access to essential information that will serve them throughout their lives. Because they don’t necessarily have the right to do so at home…”

Second clarification: If the content is mandatory, each school board determines the way of delivery. Each facility has a record holder in sex education. Then the different contents can be delivered by teachers, psychosocial experts or community organisations.

Only people who feel comfortable with it make the material available.

In this context, Julie Descheneaux – whose doctoral research focuses on the delivery of sex education courses – identified two important problems.

“The first thing you notice is the safety net. Regardless of whether they want to do sex education or not, teachers want there to be people trained in psychosocial intervention to guide the students. They engage with the lived experience of their students but feel unable to be specialists in everything: sexual and gender diversity, family violence, body image, sexual violence, etc. »

Of course we understand them.

Then the teachers believe that they do not have the necessary knowledge to engage in sex education. However, according to Julie Descheneaux, you don’t have to be able to do that much… Especially in elementary school!

“When I train teachers, I remind them that parents have no training to help their children with their sexuality or their coming out! What teachers need to develop is more skills than knowledge. And as we dissect the content topic by topic, we often find that deep down we feel comfortable talking about all of this…”

So more fear than harm.

And the children, are they feeling well?

“They love sex education content,” Julie Lemay replies. They are interested; normal, we are talking about their reality! What we call, they’ve already observed it… we just give them space to talk about it. »

Which brings us back to the outrageous Florida law…

Some people wonder if students aren’t too young to hear about trans identity. On the contrary, they build their landmarks! All the better if we give them a whole range of options. You don’t need to deconstruct false beliefs as an adult.

Julie Lemay, sexologist

We’ve come a long way since 2018. However, the rest is yet to be determined.

The Coalition avenir Québec intends to set up a Québec Culture course at the beginning of the 2023 school year, which should include sex education content, but the topics and learning methods are to be determined.

In the meantime, I’d give Julie Lemay and Julie Descheneaux a little trip to Florida as a gift. Seems they have a lot to teach the local senators…

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