School boards across Alberta have been given guidelines to incorporate new policies to support and protect students, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
Introduced Wednesday by Education Minister David Eggen, the 21-page document states students have the right to self-identify their gender and be addressed by the name and pronoun of their choice.
"I think the policy ensures all students have protections available and in place," Eggen said at a news conference. "The bottom line here is the equality and integrity of every student to feel safe and welcome and cared for in our schools across the province.
"That's exactly what we will do with this policy and I believe that the outcome will exceed our expectations."
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Policies in the document include allowing students to dress in clothing and participate on the sports team that reflects their gender identity and expression.
The document says students must be allowed to use the washroom they are most comfortable with and that all schools must have at least one single stall washroom, but students should not be forced to use it unless they want to.
The policies also must ensure that all school staff are protected from discrimination regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation and gender expression.
The guidelines were developed based on a similar document created in Nova Scotia and through consultation with experts and community organizations, Eggen said. The policies must be in place by the end of March in each public and Catholic school district.
"Boards have told me that they are very keen to undertake this important work, and some have been asking for support, which we are providing," Eggen said. "Together, we can be able to spur social change in a positive manner and build greater understanding and acceptance for all people.This is a positive development that can lead to some remarkable outcomes."
'As guidelines, they're fantastic'
Last year, an Edmonton transgender student's wish to use the girl's washroom at her Catholic elementary school pushed the issue of gender inclusive policies into the spotlight.
The seven-year-old girl was originally told she had to use a single-stall washroom at the school. But the principal relented after a public outcry.
However, the child's mother said the decision should not be left with individual principals.
On Wednesday, the girl's mother said the minister has done a "great job" in creating guidelines that accommodate all students, despite a couple of stipulations surrounding washroom use that she said could use more clarification.
CBC has chosen not to identify the mother in order to protect the identity of her daughter.
"I think as guidelines, they're fantastic," the mother said. "They outline everything that a policy needs to have."
She said her only concern is that the guidelines must be taken seriously by school boards.
"These are only guidelines and the school boards can do what they want with them," she said. "Time will only tell as to what will really happen."
The Edmonton Catholic School Board passed a second reading of its own policy before putting the process on hold until the guidelines were released.
"I'm very pro-LGBTQ standalone policy, so my wish would be that every single word in that document is adopted," Board Chair Marilyn Bergstra said. "But that's not how democracy works and we have to have a fulsome discussion, because I'm one vote and everyone's entitled to share their perspectives."
Edmonton transgender activist Marni Panas said she was consulted during the creation of the guidelines, which she thinks will be a "big step forward" if they're followed properly by Alberta's school boards.
"I think these guidelines set clear expectations of what these school boards need to do," Panas said. " I just have some concerns that not all school boards are there yet in their journey.
"There is no reason for these school boards not to do the right thing now."