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VSB transgender policy causes parents to file lawsuit

A group of parents have filed a petition against Vancouver's school board seeking to overturn a policy that provides support for transgendered students.

BC Supreme Court petition claims VSB decision violates School Act and Charter rights

The rainbow flag is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bixsexual and transgender pride. (Canadian Press)

A group of parents have a filed a petition in BC Supreme Court seeking to overturn a controversial Vancouver school board policy that provides supports for transgender students.

Passed by the VSB this summer, the policy update allows students to be addressed by the name that corresponds with their own gender identity. It also allows transgender students to use the washroom of their choice.

But Xiaofeng Huang, YuenCheng Li and Shaohui Li claim the policy violates their children's Charter rights to privacy. Supported by affidavits from nearly 200 parents, they also claim the policy violates the School Act's moral requirements.

"The Board is not permitted to allow a single conception of morality to deny or exclude opposed points of view or refuse to acknowledge their existence," the petition reads. "The Board failed to consider morality, as it relates to public decency, as a factor that must be weighed against any other moral factor."

Politically divisive

The measure was supported by all but two trustees, Ken Denike and Sophia Woo. The pair are now running for re-election under the Vancouver First banner after they were expelled from the Non-Partisan Association for suggesting real-estate agents were concerned about the policy's potential negative impact on the enrolment of international students.

Vancouver school trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo were expelled from the NPA caucus after holding a news conference calling for delays to the VSB's transgender policy. (CBC)

Denike claims he's been told by the VSB not to speak publicly about the lawsuit, but says he thinks the issue will factor into the upcoming election. He says many Chinese-Canadian parents object to the policy.

"I think it's appropriate for the parents to challenge the policy this way," he says. "There's a concern that they are not being treated equally. There's a concern that when they go out to public sessions they do not get a fair break and that they're being spoken down to by the professionals."

Board chair Patti Bacchus is also running for re-election as a Vision candidate. She says the policy wasn't actually a substantial change to the way transgender students were already being treated. She says the rules simply "codified and clarified" the supports available.

Vancouver school board chair Patti Bacchus who is running for re-election as a Vision candidate says there's a lot of misunderstanding over a policy that hasn't substantially changed. ((CBC))
"There was a lot of misunderstanding and I think there was actually a lot of fear-mongering that went on. This whole issue is about making students feel safe," Bacchus says. "It is a critical issue. It is an important issue. It's not just ideological - it's a  legal and moral obligation to make sure that all students are accommodated and made to feel safe."

"The policy itself hasn't substantially changed. What was done is that we've really codified and clarified what it means to provide those supports and inclusive learning environment for students who have a different gender identity than is typically expected."

Students "uncomfortable"

The petition claims the policy violates the rights of parents, by allowing children to keep their school gender identities confidential. The parents also claim the policy would violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by failing to account for the feelings of "non-trans" students.

Two of the options from the Vancouver Park Board draft report on gender-neutral washrooms included an upside-down rainbow triangle and an all-inclusive symbol in order to make transgender people feel welcome. (Vancouver Park Board)

"Some students are uncomfortable with sharing very personal information or private spaces with members of the opposite sex and deeply care about their privacy when using the washroom or change room," the petition reads. "The Board never proposed how to accommodate the wishes of students who are uncomfortable."

Jane Duff says the policy makes a great difference to transgender children like her 16-year-old son. She says the rules provide the same kind of confidentiality any student would expect from a counsellor.

"It's acknowledging who they feel they are," she says. "I think it's a very, very sad division that has clearly arisen in our community"

The VSB has yet to file a response to the petition.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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