This past summer, the Vancouver school board updated their policy on transgender issues. The policy allows transgender students to be addressed by the pronoun and name that they decide aligns with their own gender identity. It also enables students to choose which washroom to use. According to the Board Chair, Patti Bacchus, “It’s a legal and moral obligation to make sure that all students are accommodated and made to feel safe.” The policy is about providing accommodations for students who have gender non-conforming identities and, creating an inclusive environment for them in school.
A group of parents have opposed this by filing a petition in the BC Supreme Court to overturn the policy. They claim that the policy violates their own cis-gender (gender conforming) children’s rights to privacy as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They also state that the policy violates the School Act’s moral requirements. They place public decency above any other moral factor, including granting rights to transgender students. This was supported by an argument that real-estate agents were concerned about the negative effect this policy would have on the enrolment of international students. Moreover, the petition claims that the rights of parents are violated by way of enabling their children to keep their gender identities confidential at school.
This debate is indicative of a much more systemic issue in our society. Transgender people, as well as those who are gender non-conforming or gender-variant, face discrimination on a daily basis. Their gender identities and expressions are often challenged through other people’s gazes, glares, smirks, and scoffs. These are oftentimes referred to as micro-aggressions, but when it occurs on a regular basis, victims of these aggressions experience great harms. In fact, transgender youth are the highest at risk for homelessness, and an estimated 25-40% of homeless youths in Canada between the ages of 16 and 24 identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer): http://www.povnet.org/node/4913.
Moreover, discrimination can also be more direct and overt, resulting in assaults, deaths, and suicides. Every November, around the world, transgender people and trans-allies join together in vigils and ceremonies for a Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR), to remember and memorialize those who were killed as a result of anti-transgender hatred or violence.
The debate that is currently happening in BC about providing access to genderless bathrooms in schools extends beyond grade school. In fact, in all public spaces, people should be allowed to access ‘genderless’ or ‘gender non-specific’ bathrooms. Just as individuals are entitled to equal protection under the law on the basis of “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability”, according to the Charter, so too must we recognize equal rights for transgender people.
This is an issue of individual safety, freedom of expression, fundamental justice, and equality for transpeople in the learning environment and in society as a whole. No one, including any school child, should be subjected to discrimination based on their gender identity or gender expression.
The goal is not to make everybody comfortable, but rather to ensure equality for everybody. The road to equality isn’t always comfortable. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary for us to be disoriented, in a space of discomfort, in which our beliefs are challenged. Deeper conversations need to be engaged in at the school level to learn about gender identities and expressions, as a starting point to changing lives for the better in the school setting and in society as a whole.
For more information and support for people who are transgender, or to find out how you could be a trans-ally, visit ‘PFLAG Canada’ online.
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