Break the Silence: Creating Safe and Inclusive Learning Spaces for All #OktoSayThey

Hey everyone! I’m Annick, a cisgender female, and my pronouns are she/her/hers. As you read this post, you may come across things that are “wrong” because I am still learning, but I’d rather be wrong and trying than be wrong because I’m silent… and I hope you will choose to try over silence, too.

Breaking the Silence

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a preteen. My mom had just sat my sister, my brothers and me down to explain that her brother, our uncle, had recently come out as gay. Thankfully, our family has always been close and communication and openness has been and continues to be one of our strengths. Over the next while, we made conscious changes to be more inclusive, and to try to get “used to” this new normal. It wasn’t easy, sometimes it was awkward… the first time I saw my uncle after finding out he was gay, I couldn’t look at him without giggling. It wasn’t that I wasn’t supportive, it was just that it was new, and I didn’t know how to deal with it all. Over time though, and through being exposed to a variety of situations and realities, everything became more normal. It also helped tremendously that he was always open to talking about it, and let’s get real, it was super fun to walk through the mall with him and point out cute guys together.

My uncle let me interview him for a diversity course in University. He brought his boyfriend to family gatherings. They held hands. Snuggled up on the couch. And eventually kissed in front of us. They got engaged. And married.

His twin brother also came out, got engaged, and married.

I’ve been around it all, and it has been a true blessing (also, gay weddings are SO fun). I made a conscious choice to be an ally ever since that day when my mom sat us down. Love is love, and I can only hope that my own boys grow up in a world that truly understand this and accepts everyone for who they are… but it’s not that simple, and I’m not that naive. There is a lot of work that needs to be done.

Although I consider myself blessed beyond measure to have grown up with two gay uncles and a supportive family who have taught me so much, it’s certainly not everyone’s reality. And even though it’s all just normal and I don’t event think twice about it anymore, and as open and comfortable as I am in this space, there is still a lot that I don’t know, and that can be scary.

You know that feeling you get when you’re not sure about something so instead of saying something that could be the wrong thing, you decide to stay quiet? Well, I’ve learned over time that this mentality doesn’t do anyone any good.

Watch this clip, and take notice of how you feel throughout. (Disclaimer: if you don’t like swearing, there’s one right at the end. And before you judge me for including a Shameless clip in my blog, watch it… I promise it’s relevant, powerful, and eye opening)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssTZtRQmhxY&w=560&h=315]

How did you feel? Were you uncomfortable? Felt confused or overwhelmed? Yes, I realize this is just a show and not real life, but if Ian, the gay guy who is walking into lunch with this LGBTQ group, has all of these questions, don’t you think it’s normal for everyone to have questions and feel uncertain when it comes to dos and don’t?

The point is, he asked. We should all ask. We shouldn’t pretend like this reality doesn’t exist. We shouldn’t avoid the topic because we don’t know how to go about it. We should do our homework, continue to learn and grow, and push ourselves out of our comfort zones in order to create safe learning spaces for ALL learners.

I am not going to pretend like I’ve got this all figured out. I don’t have a hot clue what I’m doing sometimes and it’s still not natural for me to refer to one person as they singular… but I am trying, and that’s worth a heck of a lot more than doing nothing.

I can’t help but wonder how much better off we’d be if this openness started from an early age. I, as a mom, can expose my own boys to these realities (and trust me, I do… go ahead and talk to my boys about colours, especially pink and blue, or “girl” and “boy” toys, and see what they say. Check out their nails, they just might be painted. And you will find that my sons are completely comfortable fantasizing about marrying a boy when they get older — actually Brecken’s first choice is me, but we’re working on that!). My point is that I’m doing what I can at home by having open and honest conversations normalizing a variety of different ways of living our lives, and by placing a huge importance on being ourselves and respecting others.

What would happen if we normalized this in elementary schools? Would bullying drop? Would all students feel more comfortable? Would we avoid the giggly phase that I went through as a preteen because I just needed time to understand? Would suicide rates go down? What would high school look like if kids truly understood from a young age that we are all different, and that is a beautiful thing!

When Christy Whittlesey‘s book, It’s OK to Say “They” was published, I was beyond excited! Finally, a book that will help educators around the world navigate this overwhelming and confusing space, that by the way, we ALL have to deal with — whether we want to or not! I quickly added this book to my Christmas list and was thrilled to receive it from my sister. I didn’t even wait until our family gathering was over, as soon as we were done opening gifts, I started reading. The next day, I finished, and I can’t even begin to tell you how powerful this book is. In its simplicity, it is packed with information that is easy to understand, and practical ideas that make it much easier to begin making changes for the better. If you’re scared of doing the “wrong” thing, but don’t want to do nothing anymore, this book is a great place to start.

Thank you for doing this important work… educating, normalizing, asking questions, all in hopes of creating inclusive and safe learning spaces for all. Thank you for being an ally.

This is how we learn. This is how we grow. This is how we do better.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read about this important topic. I truly believe that if educators are better informed and begin to make even the smallest of changes, the impact will be felt all over. I want to help by giving away a copy of It’s OK to Say “They”! Simply comment on my pinned tweet of this blog post (click here) and introduce yourself using your pronouns. I will pick a winner at random on Sunday, January 5th. Good luck!

Congratulations to Ramona Meharg who won! A book is on its way to you!! 🙂

 

After this blog post was published, Christy shared this ressource with me and I want to save it so I am able to refer to it later. Great ideas in this video for the elementary setting!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTibSbvOs4s&w=560&h=315]

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