Critics not pleased with Edmonton Catholic School Board’s proposed gender identity policy

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s stand-alone policy on sexual orientation and gender identity has passed second reading. However, critics say it doesn’t go far enough to protect youth.

“I think between now and the third reading we’ll have an opportunity to receive guidelines and recommendations from the minister, because he has promised that he will be sharing those with boards,” said ECSB Chair Marilyn Bergstra.

Several amendments to the proposed policy were made during a board meeting Tuesday evening. (See full document below).

One particularly contentious change was to the following statement:

“All members of the school community have the right to an environment free of discrimination, prejudice and harassment.”

The board voted in favour of adding the word “unjust” before “discrimination, prejudice and harassment.”

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“When we have an argument today to decide what is ‘just discrimination’ and what’s ‘unjust discrimination’ – who decides this? Somebody could say it’s ‘just’ to discriminate against a transgender girl for using a girls’ washroom,” said Marni Panas, a transgender advocate.

 “Who defines what is just and what’s unjust? We won nothing here today. This is not a step forward. I’m sorry, I can’t support what I heard today.”

The board has had its troubles developing an inclusive policy to protect LGBTQ students and staff.

The topic originally came up for discussion earlier this year when a seven-year-old transgender girl wanted to use the girl’s washroom in her Catholic school.

She was no longer identifying as a boy and didn’t want to stand out by having to use a new, gender-neutral washroom.

The girl’s mother, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, also isn’t pleased with the amended policy that passed second reading Tuesday.

“The superintendent determined that it was either unjust or just—however you want to word it—that my daughter was required to use the gender-neutral washroom and that washroom only,” said the girl’s mother, who has asked not to be identified.

“To have in a policy that was approved for the second reading that it’s okay to discriminate a little bit is very concerning.”

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The policy has caused much debate between board members. The board’s meeting in September turned into a shouting match between trustees, which caused Alberta’s education minister to step in.

READ MORE: Edmonton Catholic struggles to create LGBTQ policy

In October, David Eggen appointed an expert advisor to work with Edmonton Catholic Schools to improve board governance. In late November, Eggen said he was satisfied with the progress the Catholic board had made on developing a stand-alone policy.

Also in November, Eggen told all school boards across Alberta they have until the end of March to develop inclusive LGBTQ policies in accordance with the School Act or ensure their current policies align with it.

The board hasn’t set a date for the third reading of the policy. The board said it will wait on guidelines from Eggen.

The Education Minister’s office released the following statement after Tuesday’s board meeting:

“We are reviewing significant changes in the direction of the policy proposed by Edmonton Catholic Schools.

We will work with every school board in the province to create policies that address their responsibilities specifically to the LGBTQ community. We will not stop until every school in the province has policies in place that protect rights in the Alberta Human Rights Act and fulfil their duty to make their schools places that are free from discrimination and are welcoming, caring, respectful and safe.

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In early January, Alberta Education officials, on my direction, will provide materials to assist boards with their policies. Those boards have been informed already that they have until the end of March to complete their policies.

Edmonton Catholic trustees know very well the expectations I have around these policies and we will work closely with them to understand changes made to theirs during last night’s meeting.

As I have said in the past, our government stands with all students and will do whatever is necessary to support them.”

Proposed draft stand-alone policy

With files from Shallima Maharaj, Global News. 

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