An Edmonton mother has filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission after the Catholic school district refused to let her transgender child, born a male, use the girls' washroom.

The mother said she was told it could take three years to have an investigator assigned.

"It's something that needs to be addressed, especially with the Catholic system," the mother said.

The parents said they knew from the beginning that something was different about their child, but last September, the youngster made it clear.

"I just told my mom I felt like a girl," the seven-year-old recalled.

That's when her parents say they knew their child wasn't "a boy who liked girl toys — she was a girl who had a penis," said the child's mother. To protect the child, CBC News agreed not to name the family.

"As soon as she could speak, she would articulate that she is a female and would gravitate towards feminine objects," the mother said.

"We just assumed it was a phase at the time. We weren't educated about what it meant to be transgender."

Patricia Grell

Catholic school trustee Patricia Grell disagrees with the decision to make the transgender girl use a separate washroom. "I’m very worried about that child’s mental health and well-being." (CBC)

The child told her family she had a girl's heart and a girl's brain, her mother recalled.

Now, the family is locked in a battle with Edmonton Catholic Schools over where the child can go to the bathroom at school.

The mother approached the school principal, the district principal, the superintendent, even the minister of education, arguing her child should be able to use the girls' washroom. But it remains off limits, with the child instead escorted by another student to a gender-neutral washroom each time the need arises.

The mother says her child has been diagnosed by a doctor to have a gender identity disorder called "gender dysphoria." There is no sexual component to that, the woman said. Nor has the child had a physical sex change.

"Allowing a transgender individual into the bathroom that they identify with, there is no harm that will come to anybody," she said. "Nothing is going to come to harm, but my daughter's mental health."

Catholic school trustee Patricia Grell recently wrote a blog post supporting the girl. She then turned on the TV news and learned that board chair Debbie Engel has called on her resignation.

"I am not resigning over this social justice issue," Grell told CBC News on Thursday. "This little girl needs advocates. She needs people like us, trustees, to stand up for her."

Grell said she wrote the blog because she couldn't keep silent on the issue.

"I didn't want to be identified with that decision," she said.

As the school district has no formal policy, Grell said can't understand how the decision was made.

"The main issue that I keep hearing again is, 'What do we do when this child grows up and wants to use the girls' change room in gym class?'"

Trustee worried

Grell said an Ontario Human Rights Commission decision ordered Hockey Canada to allow those who are transgender to use the change room of their choice. That's the answer, Grell said.

"I'm really worried about the impact of this stance we've taken on that child," Grell said. "I'm very worried about that child's mental health and well-being."

The child's mother said there are other transgender students in the school system.

"It's in Edmonton," she said. "It's in the school system. I'm not asking anybody to understand or agree with our decisions to allow our daughter to transition. I'm asking them to respect it. They're not doing that right now."

The Catholic school board, however, maintains the all-gender bathroom fits the child's needs and will not make any changes.