Girl Guides of Canada updates guidelines to welcome transgender girls

Rona Ambrose speaks with two Girl Guides before launching a call for proposals for Women's History month at an event in Ottawa, Tuesday June 5, 2012. Ambrose is now effectively in charge of one of the toughest files in government, the F-35 fighter jet purchase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Transgender children wanting to take part in girl guide programs across the country are officially welcome to join in.

Girl Guides of Canada says it’s developed a set of guidelines designed to respect and accommodate all children identifying as female.

Chief Commissioner Pamela Rice says the document will help leaders respect the wishes of anyone identifying as transgender and answer questions from those who don’t.

The policies cover a variety of topics from washroom use to privacy during camping trips, and apply across the entire 5 to 18 age range the organization serves.

Rice says the guidelines also apply to transgender people who choose to lead a guiding troop.

She says the central message that shaped the new guidelines is simple — regardless of how a child was born, a girl is a girl.

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“What we’re saying is that if the child identifies as a girl, regardless of her biological sex assignment, we will treat her and welcome her to the organization,” Rice said in a telephone interview.

The guidelines were developed over the past couple of years in response to increased awareness of gender diversity issues and a corresponding rise in transgender children wishing to take part in guiding activities, Rice said.

The child’s individual comfort level always takes centre stage, she said, adding that the guidelines address a variety of issues that leaders could encounter.

This could range from using the child’s gender pronoun of choice to respecting the privacy of a person who has revealed her gender identity in the guiding group but has not done so at home.

The approach won instant plaudits from at least one national advocacy group.

Akiko Asano, president of Gender Creative Kids Canada, said some organizations make the mistake of getting hung up on a child’s genitalia without focusing on how the person sees herself.

Showing respect for individual identity issues is particularly important for a population that has very little legal autonomy, she said, adding that using a child’s chosen name and pronoun is particularly meaningful.

“You want to respect that child’s preferred name at that time because they have either transitioned socially, or are about to or are in the process of,” Asano said. “… Not everyone has access to be able to change their legal name right away.”

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Asano said ideal policies allow children to communicate their individual comfort levels on privacy issues. Trans Girls who wish to use a separate washroom, for instance, should be accommodated, but those who strive for equal treatment with their peers should be permitted to use the same facilities.

Rice said the Girl Guides policy has evolved along those lines, saying the same principles apply to change rooms, group camping trips and other communal activities.

“It’s a question of navigating and understanding what the child’s level of comfort is and then finding a way to make that child comfortable in whatever seems best for them,” she said.

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