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Trans student outed by teachers wins legal battle in Canada

The decision sets an important precedent for how school boards in the province of Alberta will go about protecting the identity of trans students. It comes as various levels of government across Canada grapple with gender identity issues.
August 5, 2016, 5:08pm
Persone sfilano nella Trans Pride March a Toronto lo scorso primo luglio. (Foto di Eduardo Lima/CP)

A transgender student's privacy rights were violated when teachers at her school repeatedly outed her by revealing her birth name and gender, the Alberta privacy commissioner has concluded in a landmark ruling.

The decision, posted last week, comes as various levels of government across the country grapple with gender identity issues, and sets an important precedent for how school boards in the province will go about protecting the identity of trans students.

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Ella Grant transferred to a new junior high school in Edmonton in 2013 with hopes of starting over as a transgender female, and leaving the bullying she experienced at her old school behind. Even though her mother Carla asked school administrators to keep Ella's birth name, Eliot, and gender discreet from the other students, her old name appeared on seating charts, and teachers continued to call it out during attendance. One time, the name — which Ella refers to as her "dead name" — was projected onto a screen in front of dozens of students.

"It was a little disheartening," Ella, now a junior in high school, told Global News. "It wasn't only the first time being outed at that school, it was the first time ever."

Her mother added that after Ella began suffering from anxiety, and skipping school, they filed a complaint with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta. The school said teachers didn't intend to offend her and that the errors were honest mistakes. But the commissioner ruled in Ella's favor, finding that the school breached her privacy rights.

The school board has since revamped its policies to ensure trans students privacy rights aren't breached in the future, but in Alberta, as with many other provinces across the country, the law requires students to change their birth certificates in order to change their identity on their provincial education records.

Related: Death Threats and 'Crazy Fucking People': Being Trans in the Age of Bathroom Bills

Kristopher Wells, director at the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, hailed the decision as a victory for transgender students in the province.

"It clearly supports students' rights to confidentiality, right to have their school records changed and maintained in a secure and private fashion, so no student is ever outed again in any Alberta classroom," Wells told CBC.

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Ella and her mother say they're ecstatic about the ruling, but worry about whether it will be implemented across the 60 other school districts and private schools.

The ruling will also not have any official bearing on other school boards across the country, as education is regulated by province, and not at a federal level.

Issues around tolerance and accommodation for transgender students have been fiercely debated in Alberta this year after a seven-year-old transgender girl was blocked from using the girls' restroom at her Edmonton Catholic school. In January, the province's education minister released new guidelines on a range of issues for LGBTQ students and teachers. It states that all students should have the right to be identified by their chosen pronouns, to choose which bathroom they use in school, and wear clothing that reflects their gender identity.

There's also change at the federal level: Justin Trudeau's government has announced that it's moving towards creating gender-neutral identity documents, such as passports, as part of its transgender rights bill put forward in May. Trudeau told CP24 last month during the pride parade in Toronto that doing so is part of the "great arc of history sweeping toward justice."

A spokesperson for the Canadian Human Rights Commission told the Canadian Press that having gender-neutral identity documents came up as a top priority during consultations with transgender Canadians.

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne