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Vancouver School Board Adopts Progressive Transgender Policy

The school board voted for a new policy that allows transgender students to choose a name that best fits their gender identity.

by Jessica Kenwood
Jun 19 2014, 3:55pm

Photo via Creative Commons

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

The LGBTQ community is making strides on the west coast of Canada this week. On June 15, the mayor of Edmonton presented a 12-year-old transgendered boy with his new and hard-fought-for birth certificate. The new birth certificate recognizes the minor, Wren Kauffman, as a male and not the female he was at birth.

Then, on Monday, the Vancouver School Board (VSB) finally voted for a new transgender policy that allows students to choose a name that best represents their gender identity. They have also enacted a policy for single-stall, genderless washrooms. On top of that, the VSB has introduced gender-neutral pronouns: xe (third person), xem (plural), and xyr (possessive) for students who do not identify with traditional gender roles.

This policy is ultimately an extension of the 2004 ACB policy that promises students a safe learning environment regardless of sexual orientation or gender placement (or uncertainty thereof).

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It’s been a long, necessary path that has unsurprisingly been met with controversy.

VICE spoke with Toni Roberts, a gender studies expert and sociology professor at Mount Allison University, who sees this decision as a necessary step towards inclusion.

“Letting people understand and figure out their own identity is great,” he said. “In a liberal democracy, we should have choices. Now we’re coming up with a solution that is not perfect but it is progressive.”

Roberts likes the direction that the VSB has taken, but recognizes that there’s a lack of knowledge, understanding, and acceptance for those that don’t fit into one specific, biological gender — especially among the opposition.

While there was some VSB trustee resistance that made itself clear during an open debate, the board overwhelmingly voted to protect students and reduce discrimination.

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After the decision came down, two members of the school board, Sophia Woo and Ken Denike, were kicked out of the Non-Partisan Association caucus (NPA) after organizing their own press conference opposing the policy. At this rogue presser, Sophia and Ken argued that the VSB’s decision could negatively impact the real estate market and the percentage of international students coming to study in Vancouver (they represent, currently, less than one percent of enrollment).

The NPA responded by expelling Sophia and Ken, explaining that their decision “was necessary given that the two have chosen to follow their own course in various matters without consulting with the other members of Caucus. The Caucus has concluded that Denike and Woo do not share the same level of sensitivity and understanding of the LGBTQ+ community.”

They were the only board members to oppose the new policy.

According to the VSB’s chair Patti Bacchus, the decision to make their school board more trans-friendly was a “no brainer.”

“I couldn’t believe there was opposition,” she told VICE. “The point of the policy was to make the ACB clear and consistent.”

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Meanwhile, parents (led by the Chinese-Christian community) are upset that the school board could impact their “traditional family values” without their consent while lashing out at those who demonize their argument as “religious or homophobic.”

But now that the vote has passed, it’s not likely to be reversed. Bacchus is regretful that it wasn’t unanimous, but says she is backed by “overwhelming support” from the public. She went on to say that she’s “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.”

Roberts agrees, and believes having this kind of gender awareness built into a Kindergarten to grade 12 (K-12) curriculum will help us value gender differently.

“We’re on the road to equality according to liberal feminists,” he says. “They would argue that we need to value genders the same.… I don’t know why we need to know a person’s gender. It’s all part of a heteronormative culture.”

The VSB should be applauded for creating such a positive environment despite the opposition of a few parents and board members. “It’s a step in the right direction, but we need to be able to express and understand beyond trans, inter-sexed, two-spirited and so on,” Roberts explains. “I embrace it, in fact, but I think we can go further. One step at a time as they say.”

Follow Jessica Kenwood on Twitter: @jesskenwood

Photo via Creative Commons