How a unicorn is helping Ontario high schools teach about gender expression & identity

‘By providing Ontario K-12 students and their loved ones with cutting-edge legal information, we hope to facilitate access to justice’

Gegi provides educational and legal resources to foster an environment of acceptance.

On May. 5, (Gegi) launched as an educational and legal resource for high school students and administrators to help create an environment of unconditional acceptance towards diverse forms of gender expression and gender identities.

The website offers policy documents and educational materials for both students and educators. Resources include tip sheets on implementing gender-friendly bathrooms, facilitating gender-friendly overnight trips, and packages to facilitate workshops.   

The name Gegi is derived from the abbreviations of gender expression (GE) and gender identity (GI). It serves as a guide for Ontario school boards, students, and parents to pave the way for a discrimination-free environment and welcome gender diversity.

Developed by Lee Airton, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Education at Queen’s, and Kyle Kirkup, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa, “Gegi” takes the form of a nonbinary unicorn.

Beyond the educational merits, Gegi functions as a legal reference.

“Over the past two decades, governments at all levels have added explicit gender expression and gender identity protections to their human rights codes, but laws on the books don’t necessarily translate into meaningful change on the ground,” Kirkup said in a press release.

“By providing Ontario K-12 students and their loved ones with cutting-edge legal information, we hope to facilitate access to justice.”

The Journal sat down with Jacob DesRochers, MSc, and one of the research assistants on the team developing Gegi, to discuss the conceptualization of this resource.

DesRochers said Gegi seeks to ensure the implementation of gender identity and expression protections under Toby’s Law, a piece of legislation focusing on the right to be free from discrimination and harassment based on gender identity or gender expression.

The team behind Gegi has worked to research and compile information regarding public and Catholic school board policies on gender-based protections.

“Currently, we are creating a series of tools that students can use to tell their story to adults in positions of power, align what they have experienced with relevant case law and policies, suggest short-term and long-term solutions, and track action steps agreed upon by their school administration.”

According to DesRochers, each school board has a dedicated webpage they can reference to better suit their students’ needs under Toby’s Law.

“Gegi embodies welcoming gender diversity in a school context, and Gegi is for everyone,” he said.

“Thinking back to 12-year-old Jake as a cisgender student in a K-12 school, I experienced gender expression discrimination, and I think of Gegi and as a resource I would have benefited from as a youth.”

He added Gegi is a figure of enthusiasm and passion for gender diversity.

“The team has put love and care into creating that connection with Gegi, a symbol of gender diversity that represents the beautiful work we’ve all been doing.”

DesRochers said the website has resources for students and parents to learn about gender expression and identity advocacy.

He hopes school boards across Ontario will incorporate the website as a resource for students.

“Dr. Airton and Dr. Kirkup have done a beautiful job at supporting the team. We have a strong sense of community, and I am excited and proud for the future of this project." DesRochers said.

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