Vancouver schools approve policy to support transgender students

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A human-rights case filed on behalf of 11-year-old student Tracey Wilson has prompted the Archdiocese of Vancouver to adopt the first-ever Catholic school board policy, allowing transgender students to freely express their gender identity (Meiszner, 2014).

When the school she attended refused to acknowledge her wish to be identified as female, Tracey’s parents launched a human rights’ complaint, to which the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese (CISVA) responded by issuing a new policy to accommodate transgender students.

Per the new policy, administrators, teachers, students and other members of the school community must respect transgender children’s decisions regarding the gender pronouns they identify with, the bathrooms they use and the uniforms they choose to wear. In addition, gym classes will no longer be segregated on the basis of sex.

Change ahead in Vancouver schools

The decision comes only a month after the Vancouver School Board (VSB) adopted a similar policy (Transgender policy adopted by Vancouver School Board, 2014).

Following a heated debate between parents, community members and VSB trustees, policy revisions were made to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, questioning policy drafted in 2004. The updated policy introduced a string of gender-neutral pronouns: xe (third person), xem (plural) and xyr (possessive) for students who do not identify with traditional gender roles, and promised to provide students with single-stall genderless washrooms.

VSB chair Patti Bacchus told news outlets that the consultation process for the motion was unprecedented. Board trustees heard personal accounts from families as well as research from experts who highlighted the importance of providing transgender students with a supportive and inclusive environment. In the end, all but two trustees voted in favour of the policy.

Bacchus also went on to say that she was “very proud to be part of a committee that includes and supports every student by creating an environment where everyone can thrive and feel safe” (as cited in Kenwood, 2014).

Mental health among LGBT children and youth

Research shows that social inclusion and freedom from discrimination and violence are key determinants of mental health and wellbeing, particularly for marginalized populations such as the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community.

LGBT individuals have higher rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic disorders, suicidality, self-harm, and substance use (Diamant & Wold, 2003; Cochran & Mays, 2007; McCabe et al., 2010). An Ontarian study found that 47% of trans individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 had considered suicide while 19% had attempted it (Bauer et al., 2010), suggesting that trans youth are twice as likely to have considered suicide as trans adults, and nearly 6 times as likely compared to their heterosexual counterparts. 

Sadly, suicidal behaviour in LGBT children and youth has become all-too familiar as a result of bullying and intolerance. These tragic occurrences further reinforce the urgency for a better understanding of suicide in the context of the antagonistic environment in which they live. These individuals experience stigma, prejudice, and discrimination across their lifespans and are targets of sexual and physical assault, harassment and hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although finding a permanent solution to this problem will be complex and difficult, Vancouver school boards should be applauded for taking a step in the right direction, by fostering acceptance in schools. While it did spark debate, the decision to adopt progressive transgender policies has been met with overwhelming support by the public. This move could encourage school boards across Canada to follow suit and promote gender awareness and bring an end to LGBT discrimination.

References

Bauer, G., Boyce, M., Coleman, T., Kaay, M., Scanlon, K., & Travers, R. (2010). Who are trans people in Ontario? 1(1) Toronto: Trans PULSE E-Bulletin. http://www.ohtn.on.ca/documents/publications/didyouknow/july28_10/e-bulletin.pdf

Cochran, S. D., & Mays, V. M. (2007). Physical health complaints among lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and homosexually experienced heterosexual individuals: Results from the California quality of life survey. American Journal of Public Health, 97(11), 2048-2055. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2006.087254

Diamant, A. L., & Wold, C. (2003). Sexual orientation and variation in physical and mental health status among women. Journal of Women’s Health (2002), 12(1), 41-49. doi:10.1089/154099903321154130

Kenwood, J. (2014, June 18). Thanks to the Vancouver school board, it’s a lot easier to be transsexual student on the West Coast. VICE Canada. Retrieved from http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/thanks-to-the-vancouver-school-board-its-a-lot-easier-to-be-a-transsexual-student-on-the-west-coast

McCabe, S. E., Bostwick, W. B., Hughes, T. L., West, B. T., & Boyd, C. J. (2010). The relationship between discrimination and substance use disorders among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the united states. American Journal of Public Health, 100(10), 1946-1952. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.163147; 10.2105/AJPH.2009.163147

Meiszner, P. (2014, July 16). Vancouver Catholic schools adopt transgender policy, a Canadian first. Global News. Retrieved from http://globalnews.ca/news/1454972/vancouver-catholic-schools-adopt transgender-policy-a-canadian-first/

ParaDox. (2006). Transgender Symbol of the Day [Online image]. Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain3.svg

Transgender policy adopted by Vancouver School Board. (2014, June 16). CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/transgender-policy-adopted-by-vancouver-school-board-1.2676879

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Julie Boucher

Julie obtained her MSc in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the IJHS.

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