Over the past several decades, slow and incremental progress has been made in making Canadian schools safer and more inclusive spaces for 2SLGBTQ+ youth and educators.
Most notably, this work has occurred through the development of inclusive sexual orientation and gender identity policies, professional codes of conduct, government legislation, increased professional development, and particularly the rise of gay-straight or gender-and-sexuality student alliances. Student-led activism and teacher advocacy have also been instrumental forces in bringing forth this much-needed inclusive change within K–12 schools across Canada. In many cases, 2SLGBTQ+ students and teachers have been the champions for change leading the way.
Despite this growing support, 2SLGBTQ+ focused content is seldom or, at best, only partially included in teacher education programs and, as a result, new teachers continue to be certified who are underprepared to address the complex needs and realities of 2SLGBTQ+ youth and their families in our schools.
Many 2SLGBTQ+ preservice teachers seldom see themselves, communities, or cultures included in their teacher education programs, leaving them to wonder if it is safe for them to be out in their schools or the degree to which they can support 2SLGBTQ+ issues in their classrooms. Will they face opposition? Will administrators support them?
Our own research demonstrates that over 85% of Canadian educators support 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive education, yet only 37% had participated in 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive education efforts in their schools. Clearly, teachers want to support 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive education, yet often lack the knowledge and skills to effectively and confidently engage in this important work.
This new curricular phase of the RISE Project was developed to address this knowledge-to-practice gap by identifying effective strategies for including 2SLGBTQ+ content in existing teacher education programs by providing research-based, theoretically relevant, and anti-oppressive approaches to 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion in schools that can be used in most subject areas such as ethics and school law, classroom management, inclusive education, educational foundations, practicum placement experiences, instructional methods, Indigenous education, and other key subject areas.
The RISE Project developed out of the research program of Dr. Catherine Taylor (Professor Emerita, University of Winnipeg) and extensive large-scale research on 2SLGBTQ+ education in Canada, including two National Climate Surveys on Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in Canadian Schools (in partnership with Egale Canada, 2011 & 2021); the Every Teacher Project on LGBTQ-inclusive Education (in partnership with Manitoba Teachers’ Society, 2015); and the National Inventory of School District Interventions in Support of LGBTQ Student Wellbeing (2016).
This new phase of The RISE Project was conceived as a natural progression of this research program to address 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive content in teacher education programs. The most recent work of The Rise Project is funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant (2017) and the Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth (2021).
The current RISE research team includes Dr. Catherine Taylor, Dr. Lisa Loutzenheiser (University of British Columbia), Dr. Tracey Peter (University of Manitoba), Dr. Kristopher Wells (MacEwan University), Dr. Alex Wilson (University of Saskatchewan), and Project Coordinator Chris Campbell (initially at University of Winnipeg; now PhD candidate at University of Manitoba). Research assistance was provided by Lucy Fowler (initially as PhD student at University of Saskatchewan; now faculty at the University of Manitoba), Lee Iskander (University of British Columbia), Jane Shulman (University of Winnipeg), and Evan Wicklund (University of Winnipeg).
The content modules and content for the RISE website were primarily written by Chris Campbell, Lucy Fowler, and Jane Shulman; members of the research team reviewed the modules and provided feedback at several stages of the process. Weekly meetings of the writing team with Catherine Taylor were held between winter 2020 through to August 2021, when the content was finalized and the RISE website began development with Animikii.
2SLGBTQ+ Expansive Education and Indigiqueering Education
RISE stands for Respect, Inclusion, Safety, and Equity and is intended to signal the variety of approaches and outcomes to 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion often found within Canadian educational contexts. Safety, for instance, is often used as the rationale for introducing anti-homophobia/biphobia/transphobia harassment policies, but simply prohibiting problematic behaviour or forbidding direct harassment does not necessarily address the heteronormative and cisnormative attitudes and social conventions regarding sexuality and gender that give rise to these harmful, discriminatory behaviours in the first place. As such, the idea that one “best practice” or singular approach to 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion may exist that can be applied in any context is counterproductive and neglects the variety of contexts and the varied experiences of 2SLGBTQ+ youth, particularly those who face multiple and often compounding forms of oppression based on their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, racialized identities, disability, socioeconomic status, and/or interactions with colonization.
2SLGBTQ+ inclusive education efforts too often attempt to simply make schools safer or more tolerable for 2SLGBTQ+ students, without addressing the larger social inequities and structural barriers inherent within the normative systems of education. In other words, 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion often simply tries to introduce 2SLGBTQ+ people into an untransformed school environment, rather than seeking to change the oppressive heteronormative and cisnormative discourses of sexuality and gender—and the interlocking oppressions of racism, white supremacy, settler colonialism, ableism, classism, and so forth. Focusing only on inclusion or safety, for example, introduces significant limitations to the aims of providing 2SLGBTQ+ responsive education. Instead, we engage key principles of queer theory and queer pedagogy designed to disrupt normative systems of disciplinary knowledge and understanding in an effort to actively queer schools to create spaces where all students and teachers can do more than fit in, assimilate, or be accommodated or tolerated. Our goal is to envision a more just, equitable, and inclusive educational system where human rights apply to everyone and all students and teachers are supported to succeed and thrive.
The phrasing 2SLGBTQ+-expansive education emerged during the course of our research and was conceived as a way to push beyond mere inclusive or assimilationist approaches and to acknowledge that anti-oppression needs to work to transform education and normative discourses regarding sexuality and gender and other forms of oppression. The 2SLGBTQ+-expansive language we employ affirms that there are different approaches that need to be mutually supportive in order to create safer schools for 2SLGBTQ+ students—from anti-homophobia/biphobia/transphobia interventions, to inclusive ones that seek to increase representation and visibility, to queering ones that seek to transform schools and understandings about teaching, learning, and sexual and gender diversity. In many ways, the 2SLGBTQ+-expansive approach takes an anti-oppressive queering of education as its objective, seeking to address multiple marginalization and queer notions regarding what teacher education and 2SLGBTQ+ content might involve. At the outset of the RISE Project, the research team identified key areas in previous research that should take prominence in the project and respond to this more expansive approach, including the importance of Indigenous Two-Spirit knowledge; addressing the experiences of trans, nonbinary, and gender diverse persons; addressing formal and informal resistance to 2SLGBTQ+ content within school systems; and opportunities and challenges in working within various religious, geographic, and cultural educational contexts.
Indigiqueering approaches to education, an early objective for the RISE Project, emerged from the work and insights of Dr. Alex Wilson and began to be articulated in this form during our research work. While still in the process of being developed within and alongside the RISE Project, Indigiqueering approaches foreground Indigenous knowledges and understandings of sexuality and gender within the context of education and as being related to the traditions of Indigenous cultures, lands, spiritualities, communities and relationships, and the interconnectedness of them. Some content is included throughout the curriculum frameworks on this site, but there is also a dedicated Indigiqueer portal being developed for Indigenous people to add education-related content, share knowledge or understandings, and/or take up questions related to Indigiqueering education. In recognition of the diverse knowledges, understandings, and approaches that may be used by various Indigenous peoples across nations and groups, the Indigiqueer web portal was proposed as a way to amplify the voices, approaches, perspectives, and expertise of Indigenous educators, communities, and 2S and Indigenous LGBTQ+ people. Non-Indigenous educators and allies are welcome to access this content to develop their understanding, learn from the expertise of Indigenous peoples, and to find out more about Indigiqueering education approaches.