Mother’s Struggle for Trans Daughter in Catholic Education Leads to Victory for LGBTQ Youth

Ending a years-long dispute, a Canadian Catholic school board has settled with a mother who sought accommodations for her  transgender daughter. The settlement has now secured a victory for all LGBTQ students in the school district.

In 2015, the mother of a then-8-year-old trans girl appealed to the Edmonton Catholic School Board (ECSB) for accommodations that would allow her daughter to use the girls’ restroom. But that request become a heated controversy, and led to an experience described by the mother as “a complete nightmare”and “I would never wish that on my worst enemy.” The Edmonton Journal reported further:

“The mother’s complaint prompted a public battle among Catholic school trustees in 2015 when former trustee Patricia Grell opposed her colleagues’ decision to wait for a human rights commission ruling rather than intervene in the disagreement between the mother and the school. It prompted rallies outside the school board office in support of the girl and Grell. . .After the conflict became public, the school principal told the girl’s mother the child could use whichever washroom she wanted.”

But even after her trans daughter was allowed to use the girls’ restroom, the mother decided to continue with her human rights complaint, reported CBC. She said she would “never in a million years allow my child to be treated as a second-class citizen,” and wanted to create conditions where her daughter would be treated respectfully in any educational context.

Developing a policy for trans students led ECSB meetings to erupt into a “shouting match” and the drafting of policy that at one point allowed “just discrimination” of some youth. Outside mediation was eventually necessary in the dispute. A 2016 study found Catholic schools in the whole province of Alberta to be fairly unsupportive of and even failing the needs of LGBTQ students.

The School Board has now introduced a document on LGBTQ students, titled “Supporting Students of Sexual and Gender Minorities.” This document instructs educators on how to best support LGBTQ students, such as using a child’s self-identified name and pronouns, promoting anti-bullying measures, and allowing trans students to use single-use restrooms where possible.

Such a policy was due to be revised and then made public this June after a two-year process during which all school districts in Alberta were mandated to develop similar policies. The situation on LGBTQ education issues in Alberta generally has changed significantly since 2015 as the province now protects gender identity and expression in the Alberta Human Rights Act. Trans people are also protected from discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

One observer of the Edmonton controversy said it should be a “cautionary tale” for Catholic education. The Edmonton Journal explained:

“Kris Wells, an assistant professor of education and faculty director of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, applauded the family’s persistence in the case. Tenacity is necessary to effect change, he said.

“Edmonton Catholic’s approach to the case has been a “cautionary tale” for school districts across the province to follow best practice guidelines published by the education ministry, he said.

“‘Much of this pain and suffering could have easily been avoided. It’s unfortunate that it takes a human rights complaint for the school district to do the right thing,’ he said.”

This trans student’s mother is like so many parents who seek equality for their LGBTQ children, including in the Catholic Church, and she and her daughter should be lauded for persisting in their struggle. But Wells is correct that the “nightmare experience” should have never happened in the first place. Going forward, Catholic educators should put the needs of their students first, making a preferential option for those students who are gender and sexual minorities.

In a related note, a married gay pastoral worker was just fired in Alberta. You can read his account of why and how he was fired by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 17, 2018

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