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Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

LGBTQ Families’ Experiences in School (2014-2019)


The goal of this research study is to examine the experiences of lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) families in public schools across Canada. The number of Canadian LGBTQ families has increased dramatically since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in 2005. According to Statistics Canada, there were 64,575 same-sex couples living in Canada in 2011, and of these, 9.4% had children enrolled in Canadian public schools. While the legalization of

same-sex marriage has brought LGBTQ families greater legal and social legitimacy, and while numerous studies have shown that children of LGBTQ parents are as well-adjusted and psychologically healthy as those of opposite-sex couples (Dufur et al. 2007; Short et al 2007; American Psychological Association 2005), children in these families continue to face discrimination in school (The Vanier Institute of the Family, 2013). While some discrimination can be attributed to peers, teachers also reportedly "sometimes" or "frequently" make homophobic comments (Taylor et al 2011). Such harassment and homophobia has an impact on both the overall well-being of children in same-sex families, and their academic success.

Teachers, school administrators and community educators who are knowledgeable about the experiences of LGBTQ families in schools (experiences that provide insight into the statistics) can be important resources for LGBTQ families dealing with harassment and discrimination. This research study aims to provide school and community educators with this knowledge by conducting video interviews with 230 LGBTQ families across Canada. The research team will interview 20 same-sex parents with children enrolled in public schools in each province (10 rural and 10 urban) and 10 parents living in each territory. During these interviews the team will ask about the successes, issues, and conflicts parents have experienced in their local public elementary and secondary schools.

We will also ask about the ways they have tried to build on successes and address issues and conflicts. From the outset, we expect to find provincial differences in the ways schooling is experienced by LGBTQ families. In a 2011 survey commissioned by EGALE, students in British Columbia and Ontario reported much more frequently that their schools had Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) than students in the Prairies, the Atlantic provinces, and the North. This is a key finding since students from schools with GSAs more frequently report that their school climate is becoming less homophobic than students in schools without GSAs (Taylor et al 2011). We also plan to assess how sharing edited versions of the video interviews can support educators who are responsible for creating safe, positive, and queer schooling experiences for LGBTQ families. Finally, we will evaluate the effectiveness of sharing our findings through theatre, visual art, and media dissemination projects. Very few representations of LGBTQ families appear in school texts or popular culture. Community educators tell us that stories of LGBTQ family life can help people understand the complex issues and situations in their own family lives and provide them with ways of addressing these that they may not have thought of before. Together, the video interviews that we will collect and share with the public through an online database, and the three artistic projects that we will create, can be used to support educators working with LGBTQ families. They can also provide LGBTQ families with stories they can identify with and use in their own dealings with the schools their children attend. One legacy of this research study will be a rich database of video interviews that can be mobilized by Canadians for research and educational purposes for years to come.