CONTENT WARNING: Transphobia, homophobia, discussion of suicide and suicidal thoughts
In a major victory for LGBTQ+ rights advocates, the Alberta Department of Education announced new guidelines on dealing with sexuality and gender in schools last week. The landmark new policy is the most comprehensive in Canada and sets a high standard for other provinces to follow.
Alberta’s new approach is especially pioneering on gender issues, as the Edmonton Journal details:
The new government guidelines say policies and regulations must “explicitly” protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, queer, questioning and/or gender-diverse students, teachers and family members. The document says all students have the right to be addressed by their chosen name and with pronouns that match their gender identity.
School dress codes should be revisited to ensure they don’t imply skirts can be worn only by females. Gender-segregated activities, including sports teams, should ensure students who are gender-diverse have the right to participate in activities congruent with their gender identity. Students should also be able to choose which washroom to use.
(If you’re interested, you can read all 12 of the guidelines in PDF form here.)
Though the policy released by the Alberta Department of Education is only a guideline, Education Minister David Eggen heavily insinuated that school boards which completely refuse to cooperate could find themselves in hot water:
Alberta Education Minister David Eggen dropped the D-word a couple of times Wednesday — that’s D as in dissolution of school boards.
Eggen wasn’t threatening, exactly, but he did say that word in the fraught context of new government guidelines for respecting the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender kids in schools…
Eggen is quite careful to say that these are guidelines, not orders, intended to help school boards craft their own policies by the March 31 deadline.
Boards are expected to comply voluntarily. And many already are, especially in the cities.
But there is that D-word thing. A school board that becomes dysfunctional or refuses to comply with provincial policy can be disbanded and directly run by a provincial appointee. It’s been done before.
Would the New Democrats level a local board over denial of rights for students who say they are, in the lexicon of these rules, “lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, queer, questioning and/or gender diverse?”
You bet they would.
The changes come in the aftermath of a controversy at an Edmonton Catholic school last spring, when a transgender girl was told she wasn’t allowed to use the girls’ washrooms. The girl and her family also faced atrocious transmisogynist resistance from both the school administration and the local Catholic hierarchy. (The poor child was suicidal by the end of the ordeal.) The principal at her school later changed his mind on the bathroom issue in the face of public pressure, but the girl’s mother, unsatisfied with the whole process, filed a human rights report.
The Edmonton Catholic School Board wrestled with the issue at great length, but its conclusions were unsatisfactory to the province, which decided to issue its own guidelines on the issue.
The Alberta NDP has come out swinging on this issue, as well they ought to. They had to know, after witnessing the slow-motion shitstorm which has enveloped the Ontario school system in the aftermath of a new sex-ed curriculum last year, that the bigots would be out in full force on this issue.
And I’ve gotta say, I think they took exactly the right lesson from the mess that Kathleen Wynne finds herself in. After delaying a new sex ed curriculum for years and then introducing one which was a timid compromise, the Ontario Liberals still got walloped by the religious right, with raucous protests on the Legislative grounds, students held back from classes, and hateful invective on the Internet (one persistent trope is that Wynne and disgraced former Deputy Education Minister Benjamin Levin are forcing their homosexual/pedophile agenda on children).
Which is to say, these bigoted hateful reactions are going to happen regardless of how tame and middle-of-the-road the reforms actually are. And Premier Rachel Notley is already so widely despised by hardline rightwingers in her province that Brian Jean, leader of the paleo-Conservative Wild Rose Party, has had to publicly call on his supporters to stop threatening to assassinate her. So if Notley & Co. are going to have to withstand an onslaught of incoherent bigoted hatred and invective no matter what they do, they may as well swing for the fences and make big changes happen.
Already the hateful homo/transphobic reactions to the new guidelines have come pouring in. Consider this your content warning for the comments section of literally every single article I linked to in this piece; reaction online has been nauseating.
There has been no more prominent critic of the policy that Frederick Henry. Henry, a cranky old man with a propensity for making the kinds of hateful comments that could impose an uncomfortable silence over any family gathering, has a platform that most cranky old men don’t have: he’s the Catholic Bishop of Calgary. And he’s mad as hell about the Alberta government’s new policy, calling it “totalitarian” and based on “narrow-minded anti-Catholic ideology”.
What’s encouraging, though, is that he’s not getting a lot of public support, even from within the Catholic education community. Many local boards and trustees are completely in agreement with the guidelines.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Eggen has kept his cool:
Education Minister David Eggen said discussions with school boards will continue and there will soon be meetings with Catholic Church leaders as well.
“Certainly I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but important things are never necessarily easy to achieve,” Eggen told The Canadian Press Thursday.
Good on Alberta for taking this vitally necessary step!