For transgender students in most Canadian schools, the struggles of growing up and fitting in are particularly tough: Trans students often experience rampant bullying and harassment, they must deal with ill-equipped teachers and school staff who forbid them from using the washroom they're most comfortable in, and they often wind up stuck with students of the opposite gender in locker rooms and on sports teams. Fortunately Alberta's getting up to speed on the rights of transgender youth, issuing a guide for all 61 schools in the province to help them protect the rights of trans students.
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Each Alberta school has until March 31 to revise its policies and regulations and to get up to snuff on their responsibilities to facilitate the education and safety of trans students.
Education Minister David Eggen told the Edmonton Journal that, while he wouldn't call the new guide a "legal document" per se, "It’s a living process by which we can develop these policies in the best faith and circumstance that we can afford all of our students.” Translation? The guidelines aren't legally binding, but the government will be breathing down the necks of school administrations that fall short of their recommendations.
Here are some of the new guidelines for Alberta schools:
- School uniform policies must make it clear that clothing items such as skirts aren't items only female students can wear.
- Students should be able to choose which gender they identify with when it comes to participating in gender-segregated activities, such as playing on sports teams.
- Students can use washrooms for the gender they identify with.
- And students can also choose which name appears on their report card.
The Calgary school board has announced that it's totally on board with the new guidelines: "I think the guidelines are going to be a great support to our system," Tamara Gordon, the psychological services supervisor at the Calgary Board of Education, tells CBC Calgary. "I think that they'll have a pretty profound impact on school boards in general across our province."
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Measures to protect trans students across Canada
Alberta is by no means the first to take measures to protect transgender students. Here's what other school boards across the country have done to make their schools better learning environments for trans youth:
- Back in 2012, the Toronto school board issued guidelines to protect trans students: "Requiring students to 'prove' their gender (by requiring a doctor’s letter, identity documents, etc.) is not acceptable," says the guide. "A student’s self-identification is the sole measure of the student’s gender." These policies advised schools to let trans students use the washroom of their choice and also suggested staff and teachers respect the child's right to privacy by keeping a student's gender-related preferences confidential.
- Ottawa schools announced they'd follow suit in 2015 by introducing gender-neutral washrooms.
- In 2014, the Nova Scotia government issued similar trans-friendly guidelines for schools in the province. They stress that “where possible, schools should provide an easily accessible, gender-neutral, single-stall washroom,” students should be able to choose to participate in any segregated activities, like sports teams, in a manner corresponding with their gender identity, dress codes should have flexible unisex guidelines, and schools should trash sex-segregated activities like the Sadie Hawkins Dance (a dated event where girls are encouraged to ask boys out). One key difference was that while they encourage trans students to ask teachers to call them by whatever name they prefer, their legal names must still to be used on report cards.
- In 2014, the Vancouver School Board also adopted trans-friendly guidelines, stressing that schools must give trans students the option to use the washroom of their choice and the name they'd like to be addressed as in classrooms.
- Last November, the Winnipeg School Division passed a motion to create a new policy geared at protecting the rights of transgender students.
- And schools that are part of New Brunswick's Anglophone East School District have been making moves to make life easier for trans youth. For instance, Moncton High School is introducing gender-neutral bathrooms for trans students.
Tru Wilson, a 12-year-old trans student from B.C., sums up why guidelines like this are so important, sharing her own experience at her Ladner school, Sacred Heart, where teachers refused to let her express her gender identity: “It wasn’t fun at all because I was a girl everywhere else — at dance class, at basketball, at home. But for six hours, five days a week, I had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t," Tru tells Metro News. And no child should experience that in Canada in 2016.
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