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How a unicorn is helping Ontario’s public and Catholic schools welcome gender diversity

Queen’s researcher Lee Airton has created Gegi.ca, an online resource that helps students advocate for their gender expression and gender identity human rights.

Gegi.ca is a newly launched website that advocates for gender identity and gender expression
Gegi.ca is a newly launched website that advocates for gender identity and gender expression

Queen’s researcher Lee Airton, Assistant Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies in Education, and Kyle Kirkup, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law (Common Law Section) at the University of Ottawa, have launched an online resource that targets elementary and high school students and educators seeking more information about gender identity and gender expression human rights protections. With “Gegi” – a beautiful/handsome nonbinary unicorn – as their guide, K-12 students across Ontario can acquire information and tools to self-advocate within their school and school board.

The launch of the website aligns with Education Week and Catholic Education Week initiatives across Ontario.

Gegi.ca was created following a study by Dr. Airton and Dr. Kirkup of how Ontario school boards were responding to their new legal responsibilities to offer an environment free from two separate forms of discrimination: for who you are gender-wise (your gender identity), and how you let others know through things like your clothing, grooming, and behaviour (your gender expression). The resource aims to translate and mobilize findings from their recent Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant (2018-2020), which identified that Canada is going through a gender human rights law revolution and that action was needed to directly address the incremental and uneven rate at which K-12 school structures and practices are changing in response.

“Gender expression and gender identity are still new concepts to many people, let alone new areas of legal responsibility for school staff. Gegi.ca is intended to fill this gap by supporting Ontario’s K-12 students and their loved ones is the kind of self-advocacy that changes schools for everyone,” says Dr. Airton.

Each Ontario school board (public and Catholic) will have two dedicated student and staff web pages on gegi.ca. These pages connect students and their loved ones or staff directly to relevant board policies and suggest what a Gegi visitor can do or whom to contact if their board has not yet updated its policies. Students are also invited to download and share information about their gender identity or gender expression human rights in relation to athletics, field trips, and washroom or changing room access directly with school staff or administration.

The site will also host a series of downloadable and accessible resources both in French and English. These resources contain the most up-to-date law- and research-informed guidance on the changes required to fulfill every school’s duty to create a learning environment free from discrimination on the basis of gender expression or gender identity.

 “Gegi.ca is a powerful resource for Ontario students and their families to ensure their gender identity and gender expression is protected and that students can thrive and grow in our schools,” says Rebecca Luce-Kapler, Dean, Faculty of Education.

Gegi.ca targets both students and teachers, providing access to knowledge and skills that are typically only held by legal professionals. Skills fostered by gegi.ca’s resources include legal self-advocacy (i.e., correctly identifying governing laws, past legal precedents, policies and procedure; and maintaining written records and conducting correspondence), and identifying key actors and levers of power within their own school and school board. For school staff who face gender expression discrimination, gegi.ca’s board-specific pages connect to local school board policies and advocacy resources, as well as union policies. Lastly, teachers and school administrators who recognize the presence of gender expression or gender identity discrimination in their school can access gegi.ca’s collection of tip sheets and curated resources, all of which prompt proactive change. The Gegi.ca team will also share the resources with equity leads in Ontario’s school boards and work to engage all directors of education as part of the rollout.

For more information on gegi.ca, visit the website.