Love Them For Who They Are

It was craft time this past weekend, evidenced by pipe cleaners and cotton balls and paint and stickers and popsicle sticks and hot glue (of which I have an injury as proof). I watched my six-year-old granddaughter building her creations as she hummed her tunes, her little hands pushing her glasses into place. All felt right in the world for those moments, watching her intently creating her masterpieces, the visions all her own. Yet brewing just outside our safe little world are angry voices saying ugly things, too loud to ignore. I wondered what kind of world Abby will find herself in when she is my age. And … it got me thinking.

Abby is sometimes treated poorly by kids at school because she looks different – she wears strong corrective glasses and sometimes must wear a patch over one eye. She never complains about her glasses, and I also know that she doesn’t realize she is pushed down, her glasses knocked off because she is different. She attributes that behaviour as the shortcoming of the person doing the pushing, not hers. I hope she can hold on to that perspective. Many children know what it feels like to be targeted for being different and sometimes they find shelter in seeking to be invisible, which can lead to tremendous suffering for them. I hope that never happens to Abby.

As a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, I recently received an alert regarding the Forest of Reading (FoR) program. FoR is a recreational reading program run by the Ontario Library Association, the largest of its kind in Canada. Their goal is to foster a love of reading for children and adults and while doing so, FoR champions Canada’s books, writers, publishers, and illustrators. 270,000 readers participate in this program within their school and/or within their public library. Four books on this year’s Children’s and Young Adult’s book lists with LGBTQ themes have had restricted access placed on them by the Waterloo Catholic District School Board because the books “don’t align with the Family Life curriculum”, said a leaked memo from the School Board. The books have been purchased but they are on a PRO list, meaning they can’t be found on the shelf and children must consult a teacher to gain access to them. The very act of keeping these books away from children while claiming they are still available sends a harmful message. I wonder how many young children would ask an authority figure for something they are puzzled about. Publishers are calling this a shadow-ban. FoR follows a detailed selection criterion for the books they recommend, some of which include literary and presentation quality, audience appeal, accuracy, balance of diversity. The details of the action taken by the Board can be found in an article written by Steven W. Beattie for the Toronto Star on 10 November 2023, available online.

My daughter is a principal of an elementary school in Surrey, BC. A loud group targeted and challenged the province’s inclusion standards referred to as SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). A protest was organized in September and parents were worried due to misinformation being circulated and some kept their children home. When Aimee responded to parents’ concerns, they said they had been told that SOGI included a curriculum of sexual education. The BC government clearly posted the answer to that concern. “There is no “SOGI curriculum”. The site goes on to say, “However, throughout K-12 curriculum and school activities, students and teachers explore the topic of human rights and: What it means to value diversity and respect differences and how to respond to discrimination.” Parents also kept their children home on the day of protests to avoid them being witness to the poor behaviour of angry adults. Without exception, when Aimee discussed the goal of SOGI and its reflection of Canadian Human Rights, parents were relieved, their perspective changed.

So often people point to children and mutter, “kids these days”. Aimee has no tolerance for that in her school and points to the actions of adults. Think of the example children are exposed to on any given day, of the hatred and anger of adults that is broadcast over and over and over. Children are targeted every day at schools for being different and the aggressive ones are acting out what they see and hear from adults. Having access to books that talk about how very different we all are yet have the equal right to be safe and accepted in our homes and in our schools, is essential for children and clearly promised by the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Anything of value requires hard work and it isn’t always easy to have a community/country wherein we respect each other and ensure we each have equal access to education and health care and human rights. So, we must be prepared to have difficult conversations. We must be willing to speak up when we see imbalances and violations of decency and humanity. All our children deserve and are entitled to be loved for who they are. It seems so simple, requiring us to trust the power of kindness.

wendistewart@live.ca