Pride flag on the left. Headshot of Cora Payne is on the right.
Connexions Professional Practice

Celebrating Pride Month

Pride is about celebrating and supporting the 2SLGBTQIA+ community (2-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and anyone else who identifies with the queer and trans community). It’s a time to celebrate the diversity of humanity and reflect on the necessary ongoing work to ensure safe and inclusive spaces for all children, families and educators.

As a queer and non-binary identifying educator (and parent of a vibrant preschooler), diversity, equity and inclusion are areas of deep passion and dedication for Cora Payne RECE (she/they). In addition to being an RECE, Cora is also an Ontario qualified teacher (OCT) and has a Bachelor of Education degree as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Child Psychology. Currently a Diverse Needs Facilitator at Chıldınü Oxford in the Southwestern Ontario municipality of Oxford County, Cora’s entire career focus is rooted in their commitment to creating environments where every child, family and educator feels a profound sense of belonging.

To learn more about the significance of Pride and how RECEs can help foster safe, welcoming and inclusive environments for all children and families, we spoke to Cora for their insights and to understand their lived experiences.

What are the origins of Pride Month?

Pride Month is in June to acknowledge the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which was a historic event in New York in June,1969 where 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals rebelled against the unjust and discriminatory prosecution of homosexuality at the Stonewall Inn. Most notably, Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender woman, is recognized as one of the people who started the riot.

Tell us about why it’s important for you that this month is recognized and celebrated.

Pride Month is important to me as I spent the majority of my youth ashamed of who I was and I hid my identity from most people in my life until my mid-20s. Celebrating Pride reclaims the lost years where I hid who I was from myself, my family, and my friends.

Pride is also important to me because it provides an opportunity for children, youth, and anyone who may be hiding their identity a potential safe space for them to be their authentic selves, even if it’s just for one afternoon at the Pride parade.

Celebrating Pride is celebrating seeing ourselves as people deserving of love and respect despite any noise that attempts to counter that recognition. Pride is also important to me as an advocate because it provides me an opportunity to discuss the lived realities of many 2SLGBTQIA+ people and the breadth of work that still needs to be done, from legislation, policies and the language we use, to the learning materials and books we have in our early learning and care environments.

Describe the work you do. In what ways do your lived experiences as a parent, RECE and member of the queer community inform your work?  

I work in Special Needs Resourcing in Southwestern Ontario. I provide resources for families and educators with a specific focus on children with identified needs. This typically looks like facilitating workshops, developing tip sheets, supporting families and/or educators on an individual basis, and supporting Universal Design for Learning elements.

My lived experience as a queer RECE and a parent provides me with insight in what it was like to be a queer child growing up in a non-accepting environment and be a queer caregiver who desperately wants their child to be welcomed, accepted, and represented.

I know what it’s like to not see yourself represented in mainstream media and I use that intimate knowledge to challenge the status quo and those who uphold it. I do this by sitting on committees that aim to dismantle homophobia and transphobia, delivering safer spaces/anti-bias trainings for organizations, developing tip sheets on how to celebrate pride and inclusivity, and using an intersectional lens when discussing disability. But mostly, it’s in the everyday conversations with colleagues. I have the incredible privilege of working with a wide variety of educators, families, and agencies where I get to share pieces of myself with them and provide them with safe space to ask questions.

I have been asked in casual conversation about what it means to identify as “they/them,” or what “bisexual” vs. “pansexual” means, or even whether children can really identify as transgender. I wear pronouns pins and open up conversations about how I use she/ they pronouns. I think deeply about the language I use and ensure I am including everyone in my work. Most of these mini-acts of advocacy just come from being authentically me and forming relationships that foster dual-respect with those I work with.

How can early childhood educators create an atmosphere in which all children and different types of families can thrive regardless of their personal beliefs? 

Typically, we may not know a child’s identity when they are 0 to 6 years, but odds are that throughout every educator’s career, they will have worked with queer and trans children and/or families. Keeping that in mind helps universalize our language and behaviour to ensure all children and families, regardless of how they may one day identify, feel safe and welcome in your environment. We do this by providing representation and calling out bias.

  • Representation can look like (but not is limited to): visuals of gender diverse children and families (e.g., photos of masculine presenting people in dresses, queer families in promotional material, etc.), including pronouns on your nametags/email signatures, and having books out all year round that have diverse families and children.

Representation can also look like inviting a local drag story time performer to read to your class, or even showing a video of one.

  • Calling out bias can look like (but is not limited to):
    • Asking children what they mean when they use gender-based stereotypes and assume heteronormative family structures (e.g., boys don’t wear pink, every family has a mom and a dad, etc.); and
    • Having conversations with children about how everyone is different. It can also be having difficult conversations with families who hold differing belief systems and providing them with some resources to unpack some of their bias.

What are some ways employers can prevent and address potentially discriminatory remarks or behaviours? 

I think the most important thing is to be loudly supportive long before you “have to be”. Don’t wait for an educator to come out to you to make changes. Create a “speak-up” culture and utilize resources from the community to see what they are recommending. Fully understand what microaggressions and harassments look and sound like.

Beyond modeling ‘speak-up’ and ‘call-in’ culture, make it unquestioningly clear where your organization stands on these issues. First and foremost, this can be achieved by having clear policies that state support for the queer and trans community that you can point back to if an educator is experiencing any type of harassment by colleagues or caregivers. This could be as simple as, “we believe in fostering a sense of belonging for all educators, children, and families, this includes 2SLGBTQIA+ educators, children, and families.” Utilize times like pride month to affirm your organization’s stance on inclusion of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community by sharing resources during a staff meeting and/or on social media. Provide professional development opportunities that focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion.

And most of all, avoid continuously putting all the emotional burden on the members of the community to do the heavy lifting – hold yourself accountable opposed to waiting for them to champion progress at every step. This is especially important for those in less privileged positions who may not feel safe complaining and risking their livelihood to call out someone’s harassment. Encourage all allies to call it out when they hear it and make it clear that you take it seriously.

For RECEs who are looking to build their education on Pride and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, Cora recommends some resources for your learning, which we have included as a downloadable, shareable PDF.

Additionally, you may find the following College resources useful:

  • Practice Guideline on Diversity and Culture
  • Practice Guideline on Child Development (in particular, sections 2, 4 and 5)
  • Practice Note on Beliefs and Bias

Cora Payne (she/they)
BA Child Psychology, BEd Primary/Junior, RECE, OCT

As an RECE working in Special Needs Resourcing in Oxford County, they’ve dedicated their career to advocacy for all equity deserving groups and their passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion drives them to create environments where every child, family, and educator feels a profound sense of belonging. Beyond professional endeavours, Cora is a proud parent of a vibrant three-year-old, whose journey continuously inspires them to advocate for safer spaces. Being a queer and non-binary educator, they bring a unique perspective to their work, recognizing the importance of representation and accountability in educational settings. This often looks like being the representation that they needed as a child, as well as dismantling fear-based ignorance and prejudice. Throughout their career in the not-for-profit and education sectors, they’ve witnessed the transformative power of fostering inclusivity and belonging. They’re determined to bring radical change to the education sector, championing policies and practices that prioritize the needs of all children, families, and educators. With unwavering dedication, they strive to make a lasting impact, creating a future where every individual can thrive.