School: an LGBTQ safe place?


Another Canadian school board has joined the fight to make schools safer and more welcoming places for LGBTQ students: the Vancouver School Board is currently in the process of updating its 2004 anti-homophobia policy to provide more support for its transgender and genderqueer students.

In a rare first, community members, teachers and parents all rallied behind the new changes and the policy passed without opposition, with one parent of a cisgendered teenager calling the change, “a huge step forward in making all students feel welcome at school.”

Did you believe me? Sadly, I’m lying. Wouldn’t it be a great thing if the preceding paragraph was actually true? Despite the fact that the school boards in both Edmonton and Toronto have similar policies on the books already (Edmonton Public School Board’s current Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity policy came into effect in 2011 whereas the Toronto District School Board released guidelines for transgender students and teachers in 2012), the proposed policy is creating a stir in Vancouver. The revisions were discussed at a public committee meeting on May 14 with the intention for ratification by the board the following week, but the overwhelming number of people seeking to address the committee—both in support and opposition—required a second hearing for the end of the month, with any decisions being delayed until at least June.

The recommended guidelines under discussion closely follow those of Edmonton and Toronto: they state that trans students can dress according to their self-identified gender, within the bounds of general school dress codes, and can be referred to by a name and pronoun that reflects their gender identity. Teachers are encouraged to limit sex-segregated activities and trans students can also use washrooms and change rooms that match their gender (although the policy stopped short of recommending gender-neutral washrooms, like the Vancouver Park Board did last month). All in all, the policy seems relatively benign and straightforward but that has not stopped organized opposition.

The resistance to the bill is exactly as you would imagine: Xtra has produced a (perhaps unintentionally) hilarious blow-by-blow of the main points of opposition. According to reports, the woman behind the opposition group PACIS (Protecting All Children in School) argues that proper consultation with health professionals has not taken place and has created a petition with the intent to slow the process down. When accused of being homophobic by local high school students, she responded by saying she “doesn’t hate those people” and that conservative Christians are in fact the real victims of bullying.

There’s also the concern-trolling parents who are worried about students who might regret their transition and the old chestnut about rapists disguising themselves as women in order to attack helpless cisgendered students. But my favourite argument is a new one: because homophobia and transphobia are expressions of fear, they should not be repressed. “Fear is an emotion and it’s not healthy to suppress a child’s emotion and we should allow the child to express that emotion and we should not punish them or discipline them because of that emotion” she said.

On the one hand, these ludicrously nonsensical statements give me hope that there isn’t much of an argument against policies like these and we are at a tipping point where trans-inclusive policies will soon become the norm in school boards across the country. But on the other, I can’t help but be enraged that trans students, teachers and community members still have to put up with this crap. Nonsensical it may be, but it is still depressingly common.

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