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Will SD41 follow VSB and add transgender washrooms?

Burnaby school trustee Gary Wong -
Burnaby school trustee Gary Wong
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Could Burnaby schools soon have washrooms marked "xe" to accommodate transgender students?

Burnaby school district plans to take a closer look at the policy just adopted by Vancouver School Board to support such students.

School trustee Gary Wong said he couldn't speak for the rest of the district's LGBTQ committee, which he chairs.

However, "I would think that we would possibly want to have a look at that. There are a number of initiatives we're working on right now. The current labour dispute puts us in a holding pattern somewhat."

The policy sets out how the VSB can improve inclusivity for students who identify as gender-variant or transgender. It was part of a set of amendments to a policy on sexual orientation and gender identity that Vancouver first adopted in 2004. Xe, xem, and xyr are pronouns are now included in the policy as alternatives to he/she, him/her and his/hers.

Much of the changes appeared to be "housekeeping" ones with some seeing the VSB adopting language similar to that used by Burnaby in its anti-homophobia Policy 5.45, itself a source of controversy, said Wong.

The aspect that got perhaps the most headlines was that transgender students be allowed to use the washrooms of their choice, and that gender-neutral, single-stall washrooms be offered in schools.

"We deal with every individual on a case by case basis as it comes up," said Wong.

"Where a student would want to have a private, separate washroom, or whether they use a gender-neutral or whether they use the one that they identify with. I haven't heard specifically of a case where that's come up."

No related complaints or concerns have been brought to the attention of Burnaby district's LGBTQ committee, Wong said.

If the board decided to include such provisions he believes the students involved could be accommodated through existing facilities such as staff washrooms, if that's what they're comfortable with.

Vancouver is not the first to bring in such a policy. Toronto and Edmonton school districts already have similar provisions in place.

Ultimately, the policy will make schools safer for all students, said Sharalyn Jordan, an assistant professor of counselling psychology at Simon Fraser University's faculty of education.

For one thing, students will learn to respect gender and sexual diversity, Jordan said. She also cited a national study of Canadian schools that showed that not only are sexually-diverse students hurt by bullying but other students who witness it also feel distress.

As for the washroom aspect, Jordan said, "It's more than possible for people to use shared facilities in a respectful and safe way.

"I think the anxieties and fears are huge and the actual potential for risk or problem is miniscule. And schools, they handle far more challenging issues, to be honest."

As for Wong, he could empathize with the Vancouver school trustees who had to deal with outspoken opposition by some to its policy. Burnaby trustees went through much the same situation with Policy 5.45, aimed at combatting homophobia.

In Burnaby's case, much of the arguments were along the lines of LGBTQ students not needing special protection, that everyone should be treated equally, Wong said.

"And yet, you don't hear the same argument against our policy on racism," he said. "I wish it was the case that we don't need policies identifying it but if you look at the studies, you look at the teen suicide rates among that group, it paints a different picture."

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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