New Brunswick reviewing policy on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools

Click to play video: 'N.B. reviewing policy on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools'
N.B. reviewing policy on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools
WATCH: New Brunswick’s education department says it plans to review a sexual orientation and gender identity policy. Policy 713 was introduced in 2020 and one parent says openly questioning the validity of a policy that provides affirming and safe spaces for transgender kids is going to impact their safety and wellbeing. Nathalie Sturgeon reports – May 9, 2023

The New Brunswick government is facing intense scrutiny and some harsh criticism for its decision to review the province’s two-year-old policy on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

Green Party Leader David Coon issued a statement Tuesday saying he was concerned when he learned Education Minister Bill Hogan is considering changes to the policy.

“We are talking about some of the most vulnerable young people in our province,” Coon said. “Their schools must continue to be safe and affirming spaces.”

Policy 713 is aimed at ensuring there is a supportive school environment for students, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Hogan said the government decided to conduct the review a few months ago after it heard concerns raised by a variety of groups, including teachers.

Story continues below advertisement

“Teachers were unsure of what to teach and how to do it, and how this applied in their school,” Hogan told reporters Tuesday. “And I think that what we really need to do is more in-service with our teachers so that they have a clear understanding of how the curriculum works and how the policy applies.”

On Friday, Hogan infuriated New Brunswick’s teachers union when he issued a statement distancing the provincial government from a professional development session held that day to help teachers implement the policy in the classroom.

At one point, a small group of protesters gathered outside the school where the session was being held. According to the teachers union, some protesters carried signs that said, “Shame on teachers” and “Perverts in education.”

At the time, Hogan said the government had received “a number of calls with concerns” regarding the workshop, and he made a point of saying the session had been organized by the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

Coon said that approach was unacceptable, given the fact that the session was about a government policy.

“Instead of standing with his teachers,” Coon said, “minister Hogan chose to release a statement late Friday afternoon distancing himself from the … workshop that was held for teachers.”

Hogan said the protest outside a school had nothing to do with the review, which is expected to wrap up in a couple of months.

Story continues below advertisement

“I support the rights of all people to live their life the way that they chose to,” the minister said Tuesday. “The emails I received over the weekend were from both extremes. This is not an attack on any one group fostered by some other group.”

Connie Keating, president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association, also took aim at Hogan’s comments on Friday.

“Feelings of dismay and disappointment in our government’s leadership would be an understatement,” Keating said in a statement Saturday. “Teachers needed (Hogan) to step up and support them … to stand with them against hate and misinformation. Instead, we face it alone.”

Keating said the Policy 713 workshop was one of 200 sessions offered to teachers Friday. “Unfortunately, misinformation and hate that was circulated on social media resulted in protesters appearing at one of our locations.”

The union leader said protesters hurled hateful comments at the government, teachers and members of the LGBTQ community.

Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Susan Holt accused the Progressive Conservative government of abandoning students and teachers.

“By initiating this review, the government has put 2SLGBTQIA+ students and educators at risk for targeted harassment, violence and left them wondering if they will have a safe place in our education system,” she said in a statement Monday.

Story continues below advertisement

Meanwhile, Chief Allan Polchies Jr. of the Sitansisk First Nation issued a statement saying he will “not stand by and watch the Higgs government water down these protections.”

Polchies, who in 2018 became the first openly LGBTQ chief elected in Atlantic Canada, said he was shocked when he learned about the recent protest. The government’s response was “the equivalent of striking a match at a fuel spill,” Polchies said. “Instead of protecting valued but vulnerable members of our families, this government capitulated to a small group of conspiracists.”

The six-page Policy 713 says school staff must create a culture where LGBTQ students “see themselves and their lives positively reflected in the school environment.”

More specifically, the policy calls on all schools to:

  • provide professional learning opportunities to school personnel to understand and support the needs of LGBTQ students;
  • provide all students with access to washrooms “that align with their gender identity”;
  • report all homophobic and transphobic language, behaviour or discrimination to the principal;
  • ensure that classroom materials and activities contain positive and accurate information related to sexual orientation and gender identities;
  • strive to use inclusive and gender-neutral language when communicating with members of the school environment;
  • choose a member of the school to act as an advocate for students who identify as LGBTQ and their families;
  • require school personnel to consult with transgender or non-binary students to determine their preferred first name and pronouns.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2023.


Sponsored content