‘Spur social change:’ Alberta brings in school guidelines for LGBTQ students

Alberta's education minister has introduced guidelines for school boards to follow regarding LGBTQ students, including what they can wear, what sports they can play and which washrooms they can use.

EDMONTON — Alberta’s education minister has introduced guidelines for school boards to follow regarding LGBTQ students, including what they can wear, what sports they can play and which washrooms they can use.

“Together we ought to be able to spur social change in a positive manner and build greater understanding and acceptance for all people,” David Eggen told a legislature news conference Wednesday.

Eggen said the guidelines follow up on a government promise made in November to help the province’s 61 school boards as they draft policies to keep LGBTQ students welcome and safe.

The drafts must be submitted to the province for review by the end of March.

The guidelines address a range of issues, but specify that transgender students be allowed to use the washroom of their choice, depending on their gender or on whether they perceive themselves to be a girl or a boy.

The guidelines also state that transgender students be allowed to dress based on that same principle and play on sports teams they feel align with their sexuality.

Students should be addressed by the name and pronoun that makes them comfortable. They can also say how they want to be named and be recognized in official school records.

It’s also recommended that school activities segregated by gender should be reduced as much as possible.

Last fall, the Edmonton Catholic School District struggled to address the issue of a seven-year-old student who self-identified as a girl and wanted to use the girls washroom.

The student balked at the school’s suggestion that she use a gender-neutral washroom. Her family filed a human rights complaint.

Board members held tempestuous, at times angry, board meetings as they tried to craft a policy on LGBTQ rights.

Eggen stepped in, hired a facilitator to work with the board and set out to get LGBTQ policies in place for schools across Alberta.

He noted Wednesday that Alberta’s School Act already dictates that schools must create safe and caring environments that respect diversity for all students.

Eggen said he will take all steps necessary to ensure the law is followed. He equivocated when asked if, at the end of the day, all 61 school boards will have policies that reflect all 12 guidelines.

“If (school boards) are capturing the spirit of some of these individual circumstances, then it doesn’t have to be as comprehensive,” he said.

Sandra Jansen, education critic for the Progressive Conservatives, said the guidelines are a positive step, but it’s critical boards meet all the guidelines.

“It’s important that we do that,” said Jansen, who suggested a wide discrepancy remains between how LGBTQ students are treated from one school to the next.

“We’re going to have some parents who will be upset (and) there are going to be school boards that are not going to want to put a policy in place.”

Marni Panas, a social advocate and transgender person, said she trusts that Eggen will bring school boards on side.

“I will give the minister the benefit of the doubt on that one,” said Panas.

“There’s no reason for these school boards not to do the right thing now. They have the road map.”

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