Local mother accuses Edmonton Catholic School Board of discrimination
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).