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Local mother accuses Edmonton Catholic School Board of discrimination

May 12, 2015

On April 30, 2015 Global News ran a news item that suggested that Edmonton Catholic School Board was discriminating against a transgender girl because it would not allow her to use the girls’ washroom.  I am familiar with this case and know that ECSD administration has gone to great lengths to provide a gender neutral washroom for this child and any child or adult who for a variety of reasons may not want to use the designated male and female washrooms.  Our district along with school districts, municipalities, and other public bodies across Alberta and Canada are working toward providing a private bathroom experience for anyone with safety concerns.  Edmonton City Council for example, very recently announced that they were ensuring all their facilities had such amenities based upon the recommendations of the LGBTQ community.

The problem in our district and the reason for the news item is that the parents of this student would like the option for their child to either use the gender neutral washroom or the girls’ washroom.  Since their child identifies as a girl, they believe she ought to have the option of using the girls’ washroom.   Because ECSD will not provide that option, the girl’s family has gone to the media and has now filed a complaint against our district with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

I can’t help but see parallels between how African Americans were made to use “black only” washrooms and this transgender student being made to use the gender neutral bathroom.  Why is it that struggles with equality end up coming down to a fight over who can use a washroom?   Kathryn Stockett author of The Help provides a fictional account of how ridiculous we can become as we argue over who can use a bathroom and which bathroom etc.

And the arguments are petty and ridiculous but they also can cause grave harm.  Canada Journal published on May 7, 2015, a study of transgender youth that showed that in the past year, two thirds of transgender youth had harmed themselves, more than one third had attempted suicide and a third of those under the age of 18 had been physically threatened or injured. The study’s author Elizabeth Saewyc found that “If someone had a supportive adult in the family, they were about four times less likely to have self-harmed in the past 12 months.  If they felt more connected to school, they were almost twice as likely to report good or excellent mental health as those with lower levels of school connectedness.”

This study shows that we must take seriously the importance of supporting transgender students in our schools.  As a Catholic school district we don’t have to agree morally with all the decisions our parents, students and staff make but we can offer them a place of welcome and a place where their souls are cared for. If there are some parents who do not understand our stance, then we need to educate them about what the research is showing:  that with appropriate support in their schools, our LGBTQ students have less inclination to self harm. We either take this stance or as a Board and District we will have to be very careful who is serving us pie (read The Help).

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10 Comments
  1. Joan Metz permalink

    Pat,how is Laurie Blakeman doing ? I would like to send her a thank you for all she did – as much as I support a change of44 years ,I regard Lauries defeat as a tragedy ! I am an 82 year old
    Peter Lougheed conservative . Joan Metz

  2. Adam permalink

    Dear Patricia, are you sure your position of supporting this boy to change with the girls is a loving solution? I admire that you want to advocate for him, but when you speak publicly in support that ECSD has discriminated against him, it loses my trust in trustees. From a psychological perspective we do not know what harm this could cause for the rest of the children, parents and community. I personally would feel scandalized if when at the swimming pool, a member of the opposite sex was in the same change area naked and looking and talking to me. We should ask, what psychological and emotional damage would our children experience if this occurred? Finally, I know that finding the right answer takes time, thought and prayer. This is such a difficult issue. As I said, I admire that you want to advocate and I hope we can respectfully communicate our opinions.
    Regards
    Adam

  3. Larry Retzlaff permalink

    You are awesome. Keep it up.. Thanks.

  4. Robin permalink

    I applaud you for having the courage to stand up for this child and her family! Wish I had known about the rally ahead of time; I would have come to support you!

  5. Stirling Perry permalink

    Dear Patricia Grell, The board smost support You. You are an amazing amazing trustee. The Catholic school board must Revisit their values. Parents like me want our trustees to be able to speak out and challenge the rest of the board, otherwise why are you paying for seven trustees. If everyone has to toe the party line, most of us parents will get fed up and leave. Society changes we need to challenge our thoughts, I don’t think the same way about certain issues as I did years ago, so why should my trustee not be challenged by there peers. And I certainly don’t agree with the decision coming from the top brass, reminds me of the problem that we had with the PC government. Stirling Perry

  6. Hi Patricia, I’m a Catholic school board trustee in Alberta as well and I just read the article in yesterdays Edmonton Journal. I will be sure to come to convention in the fall to support any policy changes which will allow trustees the freedom to speak out against board motions.

  7. Thank you for speaking out about this. Many will see it as purely as an issue involving transgender rights, but as a transgender person I see it as one involving human decency. This student doesn’t only identify as a girl. She is a girl, and for her physical and mental health deserves to be treated as one. Legally, she should be treated as one. This means that, if she has gone through the hoops that every other transgender person in Alberta is forced to go through, she should be able to now change her gender marker on her birth certificate and many other forms of legal identification she has, regardless of whether or not she ever has surgery. Also, she should be able to access female washroom’s with her carry letter in hand. Or, in this case, with the school having a copy of her carry letter. That the school in question even needed to contemplate this, and that the Catholic School Board must still figure out how to handle transgender students, is a complete disregard to legality, human rights, and human decency. It reminds me strongly of how they handled Jan Buterman’s case, and perhaps they should be reminded of that too, and quickly re-educate themselves. Thank you for being different.

  8. Brittany Swanson permalink

    Hi. I’m wondering what study you found supporting this! I want it – I’m working on transgender social support group in the okanagan and the stats you stated would be extremely important for us to utilize and cite!

    • Dear Brittany,

      Just click on the words “Canada Journal” within my blog post and it will take you directly to the research article. If that doesn’t work, here is the website address: http://canadajournal.net/health/transgender-youth-face-many-health-issues-ubc-study-finds-26028-2015 which you can copy and paste.

      There are great resources at the egale.ca website where you can search for studies under “research”. The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools can be found at http://egale.ca/every-class/

      Your local Pride Centre would also be a great resource for research. If you don’t have one in the Okanagan, call the Edmonton Pride Centre at (780) 488-3234.
      Thank you for the good work you are doing with these very vulnerable students. God bless you! Don’t hesitate to contact me again if you need any more information.

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  1. Edmonton Catholic school trustee supporting transgendered student - Edmonton | Globalnews.ca

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