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Let’s Talk About SOGI and TDOR

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The inclusion of SOGI education in Canadian schools has been a hot topic lately, and November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). Let’s talk about these things, and how they relate.

What Is SOGI?

First of all, what does SOGI even mean? It stands for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Maybe you’ve seen or heard it referred to as “SOGI 123.” The “123” has no meaning other than to imply that it’s “as easy as 123.” So why are we talking about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity? And why are we trying to make it seem easy?  Because everyone has a sexual orientation and a gender identity. Every. Person. On this planet. And it is easy. There are groups out there who are trying to make a mountain of this mole hill. They’re trying to make it sound complicated and scary and difficult to understand. But if you understand that you are, for example, a straight man, then there’s your sexual orientation (straight) and your gender identity (man) and that’s all there is to it. It’s that simple.

Examples of Sexual Orientations:

  • Straight (attracted to the opposite sex)
  • Gay (attracted to the same sex; male)
  • Lesbian (attracted to the same sex; female)
  • Bisexual (attracted to more than one sex)
  • Pansexual (attracted to all sexes)
  • Asexual (not sexually attracted to anyone)

Examples of Gender Identities:

  • Cisgender Man (assigned male at birth; still identifies as male)
  • Cisgender Woman (assigned female at birth; still identifies as female)
  • Transgender Man (assigned female at birth; identifies as male)
  • Transgender Woman (assigned male at birth, identifies as female)
  • Non-Binary (somewhere in between; little association with either male or female or equal association to both)
  • Trans Non-Binary
  • Agender (no association with a specific gender)

These are not exhaustive lists, but they give you a basic idea of the terminology that SOGI education teaches kids. It’s also important to view sexual orientation and gender identity as spectrums, rather than black and white binaries.

Bill 27, the Human Rights Code Amendment Act which introduced SOGI education, was passed in July 2016. It’s amazing that this is still such a hot topic seven years later, when it truly is quite a simple concept.

Why Does It Matter?

Education is important, and it is equally important that the school where your child receives their education is a safe and inclusive space for everyone. Diversity and family are already part of the school curriculum. SOGI ties into that by teaching the vocabulary associated with the various sexual orientations and gender identities that exist. SOGI is about expanding diversity education by informing kids that there are different ways a person can identify, and that all identities are equally valid.

If a child in school has two moms, but that is never addressed in conversations about family, it results in that child feeling alienated or different from their peers, and they don’t have the information to understand why.

If a child in school begins to realize that they are attracted to individuals of the same sex, but that is never addressed in conversations about Sex Ed, it results in that child feeling alienated and confused and wondering if it’s just them; are they broken? Is there something wrong? They haven’t been given the terminology to understand how they feel.

If a child in school realizes that they do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, but it is never addressed in conversations about human biology, it results in that child feeling alienated, different, confused, and worried, despite widespread scientific and medical acceptance of transgender identities.

When we don’t talk about these things, when we don’t teach kids that these things are real and okay, we leave kids feeling confused, anxious, and alienated. These feelings result in much higher rates of suicide among kids who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+. If we want to save these kids, to make them feel welcome and to quell the confusion, then conversations on these topics need to happen in school, where kids spend so much of their time learning some of the most important information. When kids are armed with the terminology to accurately describe themselves, it makes them feel empowered and helps them understand who they are and where they fit in to the world around them.

It’s important to recognize that telling children that queer people exist does not magically turn them queer. Generations of queer people have grown up in times where there was no queer representation in the media, no queer education in schools, but the failure to tell these people that others like them existed did not magically turn them straight either. You cannot “protect” or keep a child from their own identity simply by choosing not to have the conversation. That only makes it more difficult and stressful for the child to figure out later on. SOGI education aims to make it easier and less stressful to understand and accept that every identity is valid and every person is equal, despite our differences and diversity. Teaching children about sexual orientations and gender identities does not cause harm; it prevents harm. It prevents the harm that comes from wondering if they are alone or broken or doing something wrong. It prevents the harm that comes from the shame of feeling like SOGI is a taboo topic, not to be discussed. Queer and trans people have always existed, and they always will, whether we talk about it or not. But talking about it makes it easier. So let’s talk about it. At home, at work, at school. Let people know that they are not alone and that they are valid, no matter their identity. As they say, it’s okay to be gay.

Why Is This a Union Issue?

There are members in your union local who are queer or trans. There are members in your union local who have queer or trans kids, or other queer or trans family members. We already recognize that in order to fully support our members, we need to support their families. This is evident through things such as EFAP: Employee and Family Assistance Programs. Ensuring that everyone (not just kids) understands what SOGI is, what it means, and what it’s about, ensures that we are supporting our members and their families fully. It ensures that we are supporting and espousing diversity in our memberships. It ensures that we aren’t leaving anyone out or behind because they feel excluded or alienated due to their identity, or their family structure.

Unions have been built on the principles of fairness, of rights and equality, of justice. Unions have worked hard for decades to ensure employers cannot and will not discriminate against their employees, our members. The Canadian Human Rights Act defines prohibited grounds of discrimination as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex (gender), sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and pardoned convictions. A large part of a union’s job is to uphold these rights for our members. Unions have such a long, rich, and storied history of fighting for civil rights that it would be bizarre for this to not be a union issue. For example, mining unions were at the forefront of 2SLGBTQIA+ anti-discrimination policies becoming law in the UK in the 1980s. Unions need to uphold and support all anti-discrimination policies; we don’t get to pick and choose which of our members we will support. And in order to support our members, we need to understand them. This makes understanding SOGI critically important. So as a union for everyone, this IS our issue.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 20 marks the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to honour the lives and memories of transgender, two-spirit, and gender diverse people who have been killed around the world due to anti-transgender and transphobic violence. Transgender Day of Remembrance has been observed on November 20 since 1999 in response to the murders of Black transgender women. By 2010, it was being observed in more than 20 countries, with the goal of keeping these hate crimes at the forefront of conversations around how we can stop them. And with the rise of hate fueled by recent anti-SOGI protests, it is more important than ever to honour these people. SOGI education could help save lives by instilling love and acceptance in people from a young age. Love and acceptance driven by understanding. Understanding that transgender people are human, they have feelings, they are someone’s family, they are valid and important members of our society. Transgender people do not deserve to be killed, beaten, discriminated against, or shamed for being their true and authentic selves. So on November 20, let us honour those we have lost and endeavour not to lose another transgender person to discriminatory, hate-fueled, transphobic violence ever again. Let’s teach our families and friends to love and accept everyone around them equally, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Because we all have one. And none of them are superior. Let’s support SOGI education as it drives this acceptance and reduces harm.

The week leading up to November 20 is known as Transgender Awareness Week and is a time to learn about and understand transgender people and the issues they face. Education is critical to understanding and acceptance. Education reduces harm and hatred. And inclusive, diverse education needs to be supported.


Understanding is key to acceptance, so here are some links to various resources that might help you understand how SOGI is being included in BC schools: SOGI Website

SOGI 123 British Columbia Website

Vancouver School Board Resources for Families Website

Surrey Schools SOGI-Inclusive Education Website 

Burnaby Schools Understanding SOGI Policy Website

Greater Victoria School District SOGI Website

SD43 SOGI Explained PDF


BCCPAC SOGI Inclusive Education FAQ PDF

BCTF SOGI Instructional Samples 

SHER Vancouver Podcast S3E1 “Embrace Hatred or Embrace Education” with Baltej Singh Dhillon
(Here’s a short TikTok clip from the podcast linked above.)

2SLGBTQIA+ = Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual/Agender, and every other valid identity.