Queering New Brunswick’s education system was the subject of a virtual event on June 3 organized by Casey Burkholder. The online event featured panelists Meredith J. Batt, Caen Squires, and Amelia Thorpe.
From the Faculty of Education at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), Burkholder is the main researcher on the project which aims to queer social studies in New Brunswick Education.
Before the discussion, the documentary titled “New Brunswick’s Queer Histories Matter” was screened. The short video, directed by Maria Nazareth Araujo featured artwork created in workshops for teachers and community educators on the erasure of queer people in the curriculum. Workshop participants produced multimedia art projects -stencils, zines and cellphilms- to explore queer themes and respond to cellphilms and zines created by 2SLGBTQ+ youth.
From Moncton originally, Meredith J. Batt is the Vice President of the Queer Heritage Initiative of New Brunswick (QHINB), an organization that seeks to archive materials from the queer communities of the province. QHINB is a partner on the research project.
Batt felt uneasy about coming out as queer in high school: “when things aren’t talked about in schools, you think they don’t exist (…) I didn’t have as many queer role models to look up to.”
Batt said that since their high school graduation in 2013, they are “noticing a big difference, different events and projects. Growing up there wasn’t any mention when I was young of GSA,” gender sexuality alliances, clubs or safe spaces.
Caen Squires is a graduate student at the University of New Brunswick, an activist and a UNB employee.
For Squires, whose high school experience was 21 years ago in Nackawic, models of queer life came from television, not from real life, when they were young.
Squires, who came out at the age of 14, said “there was always the threat of danger” for people who were perceived as different in their community. Squires also found that creating community and finding allies was essential: “we taught each other.”
Amelia Thorpe is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at UNB.
Thorpe, who graduated in 2008, grew up in rural Nova Scotia and came out in grade 8. She was told by her guidance counsellor that she “couldn’t be queer because [she] didn’t look like [she] was.” When she tried to start a GSA in her school, she faced “resistance and backlash.”
Based on their personal experiences, panel participants were asked what queer futures would look like in New Brunswick schools.
Blatt declared that “there are teachers that are (…) uneasy (…) afraid and uncertain about what’s appropriate.” In their experience giving talks to classrooms about queer history, all students should be exposed to GSA content and speakers “to create safe spaces (…) that students can access” in schools.
For Thorpe, “representation is key” for the situation to be better, “sexual and gender diversity should be within every aspect of curriculum (…) it needs to be built into the foundation of the curriculum.”
For their part, Squires envisions “a future where teachers listen to their students (…) the identities that exist already get voice time.” They added that it couldn’t “be a check box” approach to inclusion and that “pulling the past forward” was also important and needed to be infused into all parts of the curriculum.
In the context of this project, Burkholder and her collaborator, Maria Nazareth Araujo, have made short films that should serve as resources for teachers in the province and are available to the general public on the project website.
Sophie M. Lavoie is a NB Media Co-op editorial board member.