Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation
District 16 York Region

LGBTQ e-Source Q&A

This Q&A is Intended as a Teacher Resourse ONLY

General Questions

1.   Does a person choose to be gay?

2.   What about the gay gene? 

3.   Is it common to have sexual feelings or experiences with members of the same sex?

4.    How do you know if you are gay or lesbian or bisexual?

5.   I want to know more, but I don’t want to offend anyone with my questions.

6.   How can I support my family members/friends who I think are LGBTQ, but who are not out to me?

7.   What can I do to help LGBTQ members feel supported?

8.   How does a great ally act?

9.   Is it OK to tell others that a friend or family member has come out to you?

10. Why doesn’t everyone just come out?

11. Are there any risks involved with coming out?

12.  Why ‘pride’?

13. What is the Pride Parade and is it necessary?

14. What is the symbolism of the rainbow or the black and pink triangle?

15. I get the whole gay thing, but what is with the trans thing?

16. Why go through gender reassignment therapies? – Why not just become a lesbian or a gay man instead of changing your whole body?

17.  Historically has homosexuality been seen  positively?

18. What is the Canadian history on Gay Rights?

19. People talk about special rights – that’s not the same as equality, right?

20. Do all gays and lesbians want to get married?

21.  Was marriage the last ‘equality’ hurdle?

22. Why are many same-sex couples uncomfortable showing affection in public?

23. Should LGBTQ couples be allowed to have children?

24.  How do same-sex couples have children?

25.  What are the chances that children of same-sex parents will themselves grow up to be LGBTQ?

26. How do I talk to my kids about LGBTQ people?

27.  Can religion be used as a reason for a justice of the peace or court official to refuse to provide a marriage license?

28.  Why are some people so threatened by members of the LGBTQ community?

29.  Why is the LGBTQ community so diverse?

Stereotype Questions

30.  Is homosexuality a North American/Western phenomenon?

31.  Can you tell if someone is a member of the LGBTQ community?

32.  Is there a link between homosexuality and pedophilia?

33. Do lesbians really hate men?

34.  Do all members of the LGBTQ community have multiple partners?

35.  Are members of the LGBTQ community primarily from one race or culture?

36.  My parents/pastor/friends/etc. told me that LGBTQ people will go to hell and are evil.

Work-Related Questions

37. How do unions address key issues for LGBTQ workers?

38. Can religion be used as a reason for a Unions Represetative to refuse to represent an LGBTQ member?

39. How does OSSTF involvement on LGBTQ issues – not to mention the Pride Parade - affect our credibility?

40. What is the employers’ responsibility on transgender issues?

41.  What do the authorities say about sexual orientation?

42. Can some topics of conversation be uncomfortable for an LGBTQ individual?

43. If a student comes out to me, how should I respond?

44. If a student asks me how I identify, what should I say?

45. If a student asks me if another teacher is LGBTQ, what should be my response?

46. How do I address students who use homophobic language?

Health Related Questions

47. Is HIV/AIDS a gay issue?

48.  Can someone get the AIDS virus from any physical contact?

49. How do members of the LGBTQ community show their intimacy?



Language and Terms Questions

50. What is sexual orientation?

51. What exactly is homophobia?

52. What does heterosexism mean?

53. What is heteronormativity?

54. Is it okay for me to say ‘fag’, ‘queer’, ‘dyke’?

55. Is it OK for members of the LGBTQ community to call each other queer or fag?

56. What is gender identity?

57. What is gender expression?

58. What does intersex mean?

59.  What is transgender?  What is transsexual?

60.  What does someone being in Transition mean?

61. What is Transphobia?

Answers to General Questions

1. Does a person choose to be gay?

Being gay is not a choice just as being straight is not a choice. Deciding whether or not you are LGBTQ is more of a realization. Some come to this realization early in life, some not until much later.

2. What about the "gay gene"?

Some people may find the idea of a ‘gay gene’ comforting – it says “they/we can’t help it; it’s not their/our fault”. As a result members of the LGBTQ community may be the objects of tolerance and pity.  So, on this basis, members of the LGBTQ community get tolerance, sometimes even pity. That’s not the same as acceptance, celebration, or true equality.

3. Is it common to have sexual feelings or experiences with members of the same sex?

Yes, studies have shown that as high as 15% of the population are actively bisexual.  Others have concluded that as high as 30% of men reported to have had a sexual experience with another man at some point in their lives.

4. How do you know if you are gay or lesbian or bisexual?

Most people who are lesbian or gay would agree that it’s just that clear to them and their lives don’t make sense any other way. Having said that, sometimes it takes a while to figure this out.

5. I want to know more, but I don’t want to offend anyone with my questions.

Sure, some questions are offensive, but mostly you’ll find that members of the LGBTQ community would rather be talked to, than whispered about, and will give frank answers.  Just check yourself – are you asking because you are simply curious or because you think that an answer would help you be a stronger ally?  If you are not sure about your question, say that you’d like to be told if you are crossing the line into issues that are too personal.  Another way to think about what is appropriate is to flip your question around: would you feel comfortable answering it?  

6. How can I support my family members/friends who I think are LGBTQ, but who are not out to me?

It is important not to assume anyone is LGBTQ.  With that being said, it is more important that you are positive and supportive of LGBTQ issues.  Please recognize that their coming out will happen on their timetable.  Be patient, and keep caring.  It’s a big step to come out – the prospect of losing friends, family, community, is pretty daunting. Don’t be angry that you are not the first one they tell, or be boastful that you’ve known it all along.  Go easy.

7. What can I do to help LGBTQ members feel supported?

Interrupt homophobic jokes and bullying.  Stand up for LGBTQ members even when it’s not popular.  Use language that tells us you are open.  Participate in the positive space campaign by putting a pride or safe space sticker on your binder or your computer, as a way of signaling to our LGBTQ members and our broader membership that we value our LGBTQ members and we’re committed to the struggle for stronger human rights and equality.  Assume that members of the LGBTQ community make an organization stronger. See members of the LGBTQ community as whole people.

8. How does a great ally act?

Use the correct language such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.  It will make members of the LGBTQ community feel less invisible. Don’t assume anyone is exclusively heterosexual. Use gender neutral language when talking about your spouse and when talking about someone else’s. Let the people you care about know that whomever they choose to love, whoever they choose to be, you will celebrate with them. Actively support the LGBTQ community in their struggle to obtain human rights protection for lesbians and gays, bisexuals and transgender members of our society.

9. Is it OK to tell others that a friend or family member has come out to you?

It is not appropriate to ‘out’ anyone.  A person may come out to you, but that does not mean that they are out in another situation or feel comfortable being so.  Respect their right to make these decisions and declarations.

10. Why doesn’t everyone just come out?

This would result in a ‘speeding up’ of societal acceptance.  But coming out isn’t something that is done once – it’s practically a daily process.  Every time their children get a new teacher, whenever they negotiate with the bank, whenever they get a new doctor, whenever they meet a new co-worker, whenever the run into someone from high school, whenever they cross the border ….a member of the LGBTQ community makes a decision about whether to come out.  And for those members who don’t easily ‘pass’ as straight or as our chosen gender identity, they’re still coming out, it’s just got a bit of added stress because they have less control over the timing. Coming out isn’t always traumatic, but it’s not always easy.

 

 

11. Are there any risks involved with coming out?

Risks

● Being afraid of not being accepting

● Receiving reactions of shock, confusion or hostility from  family, friends, classmates, co-workers

● Impacting personal relationships

● Experiencing harassment or discrimination 

● Being afraid for your personal safety

● Being thrown out of their home, or losing financial support from their parents.

Benefits      

● Living an open and whole life     

● Developing closer, more genuine relationships   

● Gaining self-esteem for being known and loved for who you really are                       

● Reducing the stress of hiding our identity            

● Connecting with others in the gay, lesbian, bisexual community       

● Becoming part of a strong and vibrant community

● Becoming a positive role model for others

12. Why ‘pride’?

Throwing off shame of who you are and learning to be proud is at the heart of pride movements. Pride can be an internal struggle for some while for others it can be something that is easy for them to put forth.

13. What is the Pride Parade and is it necessary?

The Pride Parade attracts millions of people every year in a celebration of LGBTQ rights and, more importantly, diversity.  The Pride Parade brings together members of the LGBTQ community and allies to demonstrate their support for one another.

The Pride Parade is necessary because it provides an opportunity to celebrate oneself, it brings people (LGBTQ and allies) together, and acts as a political movement for LGBTQ rights.

14. What is the symbolism of the rainbow or the black and pink triangle?

The rainbow has been a symbol of LGBTQ pride since the 1970s. The colours are intended to symbolize LGBTQ diversity. The historical significance of the black and pink triangles dates back to the 1930s when the Nazis launched a campaign to persecute lesbians and gays. The Nazis used down-turned triangles, black for lesbians and pink for gay men, as identification markers in concentration camps.

15. I get the whole gay thing, but what is with the trans thing?

Whenever a new fight against oppression emerges, some people have conflicting feelings. They know that a struggle against any form of bigotry and discrimination is ultimately good for everyone. But they feel anxious about how those changes will affect their own lives and identities. There are some lesbians and gay men who fear that their “winnable” demands for legislative reforms or acceptance will be lost if they stand up for the rights of transgendered people. What needs to be the focus and continues to be the focus is the idea of removing bigotry and discrimination for all members of the LGBTQ community.

16. Why go through gender reassignment therapies? – Why not just become a lesbian or a gay man instead of changing your whole body?

Many people wrongly assume that transgender and sexual orientation are linked (e.g., if someone has a sex change, it is so that they can be with someone of the - now - opposite sex. This may, or may not be the result, but it is unlikely to be the motivating factor). The reasons that people undergo sex reassignment therapies are to do with who they feel they themselves are, and not to do with who they want to have a relationship with. Some transgendered people enter into same-sex relationships after therapy, while others seek opposite sex relationships. Some maintain their relationships from prior to transition, others don’t.

17. Historically has homosexuality been seen  positively?

The fact that there have been laws against homosexual activity (including cross-dressing) since the earliest recorded times tells us that homosexual activity is at least as old as the laws that have banned it (they wouldn’t be making up laws if there weren’t people transgressing them!). There have been societies that have historically accepted homosexuality – for example in Ancient Greece, and in many Aboriginal cultures (where the term ‘twospirited’ is sometimes used).

18. What is the Canadian history on Gay Rights?

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969 (Pierre Trudeau’s famous line: “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation”).  In 1977 Quebec laws were amended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; in 1986 Ontario amended its laws; in 1992 BC followed suit, and in 1995 the Canadian Human Rights Act was finally amended to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.  Same-sex benefits are now the law, and equal marriage legislation has passed in Canada (2005)

19. People talk about special rights – that’s not the same as equality, right?

Transgendered people certainly are not asking for anything ‘special’ either – a safe place to work, a safe washroom / changeroom (just like everyone else has), the right to be called by their name, the right to accommodation (that we all have), and the right to be referred to by their chosen gender expression.

20. Do all gays and lesbians want to get married?

All gays and lesbians support equality.  Not all want to get married. Some are interested in legal recognition, others are not.

21. Was marriage the last ‘equality’ hurdle?

Marriage was one major ‘equality’ hurdle to overcome, but there are still many issues that members of the LGBTQ community face.  But, gay, lesbian, bisexual and particularly trans individuals are still at risk of rejection from our families, friends and co-workers; LGBTQ youth are still kicked out of our homes; the suicide rate for LGBTQ youth is double the national average; bashing and murder still happen with alarming frequency; there are still homophobic slurs, transphobic violence, and harassment in the workplace, etc.

22. Why are many same-sex couples uncomfortable showing affection in public?

Some same-sex couples may be uncomfortable showing affection in public because they fear homophobic reactions in the community.

 23. Should LGBTQ couples be allowed to have children?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, there is not a shred of evidence that having LGBTQ parents has negative impacts on child development.  What is harmful to the children of LGBTQ parents is homophobia.  Homophobia, like any discriminatory practice, is something that we as a society need to address.

24. How do same-sex couples have children?

Similarly to heterosexual families, same-sex parents also have many options for having children.  The following are some common options:

  • LGBTQ families may use adoption
  • LGBTQ families may use surrogacy
  • LGBTQ families may be made up of children from previous marriages
  • LGBTQ females may use anonymous donors through sperm banks and bear the child themselves

Most importantly, our kids are planned and wanted much like that of a heterosexual family.

25. What are the chances that children of same-sex parents will themselves grow up to be LGBTQ?

Studies show that same-sex parents have little influence on their children’s sexual orientation. LGBTQ parents have about as much ability as heterosexual parents to influence the sexuality of their children.

26. How do I talk to my kids about LGBTQ people?

Be straightforward and use the correct language (for example, ‘gay men and lesbians’ – rather than ‘gay people’).  You can talk about how everyone is different (i.e. some people are left-handed, some have red hair, etc.) and sexual orientation is one of many facets that make up who we are.  Members of the LGBTQ community are attracted to the same sex or both sexes while heterosexuals are attracted to the opposite sex.  ‘Love is love’ regardless of sexual orientation.

27. Can religion be used as a reason for a justice of the peace or court official to refuse to provide a marriage license?

Public servants do not have the right to discriminate in their duties and the role of justices of the peace is to perform marriages. There are still some jurisdictions where this question is unresolved. Stay tuned.  In 2006 the Conservatives floated the idea of a “Defense of Religions Act”, that would have allowed religion to be used in this way; they backed off under public pressure. Taken to extreme, it could give teachers the right to refuse to teach out gay students, and so on. In Minnesota a bus driver recently won the right to refuse to drive buses with gay-positive advertising, but her union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 is on record in opposition to the court’s decision.

28. Why are some people so threatened by members of the LGBTQ community?

While people in the heterosexual community do not pointedly ask this question, it is all around us.  Some heterosexuals feel threatened by the fundamental dynamic of male to female relationships being challenged.   

At the same time, these “moral debates” may cause a person to think about his or her relationships with members of the same gender. A person may be fearful that if he or she examines these relationships and emotional attachments, they themselves might be gay.

29. Why is the LGBTQ community so diverse?

One way of thinking about sexuality is on a continuum (a range or a scale). Some people believe very strongly that they belong at one or the other ends of the continuum (gay or straight). Studies suggest that most people, however, fall somewhere along the continuum.  Please refer to gender identity and gender expression in the glossary.

 

Answers for Stereotypes Questions

30. Is homosexuality a North American/Western phenomenon?

There is nothing particularly Western, about homosexualilty. It’s amazing that something that has been a part of our world culture throughout the ages continues to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and ‘hidden’.  LGBTQ citizens live in every country.

31. Can you tell if someone is a member of the LGBTQ community?

Nobody likes to be stereotyped.  When people ask this question, they are usually suggesting that if a man acts “feminine”, or a woman acts “masculine”, it means they are gay or lesbian.  What needs to be challenged are rigid notions of what it means to be male and female.

32. Is there a link between homosexuality and pedophilia?

No, there is no link between homosexuality and pedophilia.  The statistics show that 11 of 12 offenders are heterosexual men and there is *no scientific basis for asserting that homosexuals are more likely than heterosexual men to commit pedophilia.  (* 2013 - Gregory M. Herek is a Professor of Psychology - University of California at Davis)

33. Do lesbians really hate men?

The assumption that lesbians hate men is false.  Sexual orientation is based on who someone is attracted to rather than whom they dislike.

34. Do all members of the LGBTQ community have multiple partners?

Members of the LGBTQ community are as varied as those of heterosexual community.  Some may be in permanent relationships and some may have a series of partners.  Regardless of ones sexual orientation a person may be monogamous not.

35. Are members of the LGBTQ community primarily from one race or culture?

No.  The LGBTQ community comes in all shapes, sizes, races and ages, and from all economic, cultural and religious backgrounds. They are parents, children and grandparents. They are your brothers and sisters. They are your friends.

36. My parents/pastor/friends/etc. told me that LGBTQ people will go to hell and are evil.

Some people and religious groups believe that it is immoral to be homosexual or bisexual, but other people and religious groups accept people regardless of their sexual orientation. No matter what one’s personal, cultural, or religious beliefs about sexual orientation are, it is important to treat all people with respect. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes the rights of people to equality and to be free from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

 

Answers to Work-Related Questions

37. How do unions address key issues for LGBTQ workers?

LGBTQ union members – and anyone else perceived to be LGBTQ —can sometimes be harassed in the workplace.  This may range from being the target of whisper campaigns, of graffiti, or verbal harassment.  None of it is acceptable and all of it is an affront to human dignity and union solidarity.  Anti-harassment policies, anti-discrimination contract language and inclusive benefits policies are essential.  Unions need to work toward the inclusion of LGBTQ members at all levels within their organizations. 

38. Can religion be used as a reason for a Unions Represetative to refuse to represent an LGBTQ member?

In short, no.  A union is not a religious organization.  Unions have a legal responsibility to represent all of its members, including LGBTQ members. They have a legal duty to represent; to do less would be considered arbitrary, discriminatory and in bad faith.  Furthermore, the OSSTF motto states “Let us not take thought for our separate interests, but let us help one another”.

39. How does OSSTF involvement on LGBTQ issues – not to mention the Pride Parade - affect our credibility?

Carrying a union banner in a Pride Parade actually gives our union credibility with all of society including the LGBTQ members of society that are often excluded by other groups.  That’s what coalition building is about.  Unions are acknowledged as major players in the fight for LGBTQ rights. Nowhere in the world have unions pushed as hard as they have in Canada, and consequently LGBTQ Canadians have more rights than citizens of nearly every other country in the world. Unions belong at pride because they are leaders in this fight.   

40. What is the employers’ responsibility on transgender issues?

Employers are legally responsible for providing a harassment-free workplace.  Employers are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of gender in hiring, training or promoting transgendered workers.

41. What do the authorities say about sexual orientation?

The Canadian Human Rights Act includes sexual orientation among prohibited grounds of discrimination. The Ontario Ministry of Education, our school board, and our school also have equity policies to promote safe and inclusive school climates for all students and staff. This means that it is not okay to harass or discriminate against people who are LGBTQ.

42. Can some topics of conversation be uncomfortable for an LGBTQ individual?

People ask questions such as “are you married or do you have a Boyfriend/Girlfriend” around the lunch table to each other all the time.  Your LGBTQ colleague may feel uncomfortable talking about his/her partner and family situation.  Your friend’s partner may be less out at his or her workplace.  Frankly your friend may just feel that none of this is any of your business. You need to ask yourself if you are being a caring supportive individual should you be asking questions that reinforce heterosexual privilege.

43. If a student comes out to me, how should I respond?

If the student is coming out to you it is because they trust you and it is important not to betray their confidentiality and trust. Ensure that they feel supported and, if asked, offer any assistance and resources that you can.  (If you feel that the student may be in jeopardy, it is at this point where you should advise the student of your legal responsibilities to report and refer the student to Administration and the proper support.)

44. If a student asks me how I identify, what should I say?

Within education, discussions with students regarding personal information (regardless of your sexual orientation) come with inherent risks. Discussions with students of your personal life if often considered one of the indicators of boundaries violations.  If you feel that a boundary may be crossed, please contact the District 16 Office.

45. If a student asks me if another teacher is LGBTQ, what should be my response?

The simple response should be “it is inappropriate for us to be discussing another individuals personal life without them present”.

46. How do I address students who use homophobic language?

The links below are an excellent resources teachers may use to combat homophobic terms and language. (www.d16.osstf.ca/GSMA)

How to Support Students Who Are Victims of Anti-Gay Slurs


That's So Gay! and tips for teachers to responding to homophoblc comments


The Do's & Don't is Name Calling 
  
Answers for Health Related Questions

47. Is HIV/AIDS a gay issue?

HIV/AIDS is both a heterosexual and homosexual issue – it is not a ‘gay disease’.  Heterosexuals and homosexuals are equally at risk.  It is important to practice safe sex.

48. Can someone get the AIDS virus from any physical contact?

The AIDS virus is not transmitted by casual physical contact, mosquito or insect bites, kissing, coughing or sneezing, sharing toilets or washroom facilities, consuming food or drink handled by someone who has HIV.  The primary forms of transmission are unprotected sex and sharing needles.

49. How do members of the LGBTQ community show their intimacy?

People show their love and affection and express themselves sexually in many different ways whether they are attracted to people of the opposite sex, same sex, or both.  Just like people in opposite sex relationships, some men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women like and dislike different types of sexual activities.  Not all LGBTQ people choose to express themselves sexually, and others choose to wait until they are in a committed relationship. People have to figure out if, when, and how they want to express themselves sexually and what they feel comfortable doing.



Answers to Language and Terms Questions

50. What is sexual orientation?

Please refer to our glossary.

51. What exactly is homophobia?

Clinically, it refers to a fear and hatred of gays and lesbians. Homophobia ranges from derogatory comments, to harassment, to violence (gaybashing), to silencing (‘as long as they don’t talk about it’, etc.) to denial of human rights.  Homophobia is also described as the fear of feeling love for members of one’s own sex, and therefore the hatred of those feelings in others. Because some LGTBQ people are immersed in a culture that can be pretty homophobic, many lesbians, gay men and bisexuals have had to deal with their own internalized homophobia at times in their lives.

52. What does heterosexism mean?

It is the assumption that everyone wants to be, or is involved in, an opposite sex relationship. This assumption includes the belief that heterosexual relationships are superior to lesbian and gay relationships.  It is the assumption behind innocent questions asked of a female colleague like: “What does your husband do?” It is inclusion of ‘partners of the opposite sex’ in definitions of spouse or partner.  Heterosexism is part of what makes it difficult for members of the LGBTQ community to talk about our lives.

53. What is heteronormativity?

Heteronormativity (now there’s a mouthful) refers to the way that heterosexuality is treated by our culture as the only normal way of loving. It includes (but isn’t limited to!) the silly questions to six year old girls about who their boyfriend is.

54. Is it okay for me to say ‘fag’, ‘queer’, or ‘dyke’?

No, it is inappropriate and hateful to use such language.  Language is a powerful tool – its impact is often related to who is using it and for what purpose. With time, many people in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered movement reclaimed the language and began using it. In this way, they took the power of the words, and made it theirs.  Not all LGBTQ people today feel comfortable using these words; some people in the community (particularly older people) still feel they are discriminatory and hateful. In most contexts outside of the gay, lesbian, bisexual community, words like: queer, dyke, faggot, etc., are still intended as derogatory, hurtful, insulting.

55. Is it OK for members of the LGBTQ community to call each other queer or fag?

Some members of the LGBTQ community have reclaimed words that are used against them as putdowns. This means that some people use these words in a positive way to talk about themselves and their community.

56. What is gender identity?

Please refer to our glossary.

57. What is gender expression?

Please refer to glossary.

58. What does intersex mean?

Please refer to our glossary.

59. What is transgender?  What is transsexual?

Please refer to our glossary.

60. What does someone being in Transition mean?

Transition or transitioning is the process of changing sex, including hormones, cross living (living according to gender identity, not biology), and surgery. A practical minimum duration for this process is about two years but it is not unusual for it to take longer.

61. What is Transphobia?

Please refer to our glossary.