By Sue Senior

On October 16, 2023, Sue Senior delegated to the trustees of the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB). Sue is a retired educator who worked for 30 years in the WRDSB teaching Physical and Health Education (including sexual health), biology, kinesiology, math, and a variety of extra curriculars. This post is based on the reflections she shared with the Board.

25 of my 30 years were as a closeted straight-passing teacher. I was afraid that I would not be permitted to teach or to coach and would be the object of derision and stigmatization should I have come out.

By 2008, I realized that being closeted was doing far more harm to my well-being than the risks associated with being out. By then the board had done some excellent work in creating an environment where 2SLGBTQIA+ students and staff could learn and work, knowing that there were policies in place to protect them and affirm them.

Nothing really changed for me as a teacher after coming out.

I did not make any big announcements. I just lived more authentically and was a healthier and more confident teacher, colleague, and friend, and then a spouse, with my wife whom I met two years later.

I share this reluctantly as I am aware that there are some people who believe that there is a ‘gay agenda’ and that I am speaking to you with some sort of ulterior motive. My only motive is to ensure that this board and all adults provide the duty of care that that is required when entrusted with the supervision of children.

ALL OF US have a legal duty of care, which means a duty to act in a way that avoids causing harm to others – in this case, children – when such harm might reasonably have been foreseen.

The motion before the board would undermine that duty of care if a teacher were required to report every single instance where a parent has decided what parts of a lesson are considered to be ‘not age appropriate’ or ‘suitable’ for their child.

As well, foundational to the Physical and Health Education Curriculum, it is stated that:

Research has shown that teaching about sexual health and human development does not increase sexual behaviour and can actually prevent risky activity.

Sadly, there are already students who don’t have access to the sexual health and human development curriculum due to many false notions that the curriculum indoctrinates children to being gay or transgender or makes them initiate sexual activity at a young age.

Additional misinformation is being spread based on the myth that there are only two genders: male and female. Biologically, that is incorrect. Intersex people have always been among us.

Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

For example, a baby might be born appearing to be female on the outside but has mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. A person may also be born with mosaic genetics or cells with both XX and XY chromosomes.  

It is important to note that being intersex is not a disease or a disorder any more that being born with blue eyes or brown eyes or hazel eyes. There are about the same number of intersex individuals on the planet as there are red-headed people. (Here is a short video as a reference regarding the complexities of gender.)  

So, how do those who strongly believe that there are only males and females reconcile this fact? How does the school board make sure that ALL GENDERS are affirmed without stigmatizing those in the minority?

We have a duty of care for ALL students.

Back to the motion at hand and what is most problematic about being forced to report on specific content that can arise in a school day.

I can’t even begin to list the number of times that questions or comments are made in a variety of classes – often outside of the designated ‘sexual health curriculum lesson’ that relate to sex, relationships, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, and loads of other topics.

If a student casually mentions their two dads (for example) when talking about their summer holiday, would the teacher be expected to stop the lesson, silence the child and/or shoo some pre-identified children from the room, or pick up the phone and call the parents in that moment?

That would be harmful in so many ways, and not only to the child with two dads! Not to mention how disruptive to the class it would be.

The classroom needs to be a place where all students feel that they can ask questions or enter a discussion without fear of reprisal or being shamed because of their life experience. Only in cases of overt and deliberate bullying or taunting of others would a teacher stop the comments being made and manage the situation appropriately.

The other situation that has me extremely worried about student safety and care relates to those students who often confide in a trusted teacher or staff member. It might be a student who shares that:

  • the marks on their arms are from a family member abusing them, OR…
  • they might share that they think they are attracted to someone of the same-sex and don’t know what that means…. OR…
  • they might indicate that they don’t want to wear ‘girls’ dresses anymore and would prefer pants and a shirt.

In all of these and many more situations, one of the very first things a staff member would do is ask if they have shared this with their parents or caregivers. If not, then the next step is to ask if they want to share with the parents and if they would like some help in doing so. In most cases, students WANT their parents to know. In most cases, the parents already know.

In cases where the information shared by the student leads the adult to believe that harm might come to that student or to others, the adult is required to report that information to the appropriate protective agency such as Family and Children Services.

So, if the policy and laws are revised as suggested to force school staff to report certain disclosures to the parents, they will be in direct contravention with the required Duty of Care.

Unfortunately, there are some children and youth who are at great risk of rejection, abandonment, and deep emotional and physical harm by their family or designated caregivers.

In other words, those children and youth would not ever be able to safely access the resources they need to navigate the situation with professional support.

I also speak from a religious context as the motion points to a broadening of religious accommodations. I am an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC). I was also appointed by the PCC to co-lead a special Listening Committee (also known as Rainbow Communion) to report on harm done by and through the Church, in all of its contexts, and to make recommendations to ensure that the harm is addressed and does not continue.

After four years of listening and work, it is important to note that all 23 recommendations brought to the denomination were adopted. The reports and supporting resources are all available on the PCC website. You can also watch a video summary of stories shared.

We heard accounts of harm that ranged from people being isolated, embarrassed, shamed, physically attacked, threatened with spiritual harm, and heartbreakingly, learned about those who tried to cope by turning to drugs, alcohol or other behaviours of self-harm including death by suicide.

It was the religiously institutionalized hypocrisy, homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism that perpetuated ongoing harm. This harm extended not only to those who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, or intersex. It also affected their families, partners, and allies. Furthermore, this institutionalized fear, and even hatred, created a culture of fear and suspicion within and between churches, presbyteries and synods. I do not want to see a culture like this return to our church, or to our public school system.

While the imposition of religious beliefs has no place in the public school board, I felt it was important to underscore that not all religious groups seek to exclude and further harm those who are not heterosexual. Not all religious groups marginalize and stigmatize those who do not clearly identify and present as either male or female. Instead, I believe we must reflect on the basic values that are common to all religions: compassion; respect for the human person; and the Golden Rule of, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’

These same values are part of the classroom and school ethos.

Let us continue to support, encourage and empower all students to become skilled, caring, and compassionate global citizens.


SPECTRUM offers a safe place where LGBTQ2+ individuals can be themselves and find community and supports.