Mom of transgender girl once banned from female washroom reaches deal with Edmonton Catholic board

The mother who filed a human rights complaint after her transgender daughter was denied access to the female bathroom has reached an agreement with the Edmonton Catholic School District, CBC News has learned. The resolution comes as board officials appear to be taking new steps to support LGBTQ students.

New document 'part of our ongoing commitment to a fully inclusive environment,' says Catholic district

The mother who launched a human rights complaint after her transgender daughter was denied access to the female bathroom says she's happy to reach an agreement with the Catholic district.

The mother who filed a human rights complaint after her transgender daughter was denied access to the female bathroom at school has reached an agreement with the Edmonton Catholic School District, CBC News has learned.

The resolution comes alongside the district's release of a new document titled "Supporting Students of Sexual and Gender Minorities."

The guideline recommends consulting with students and families on washroom use, using the same language as students to describe their identity and emphasizes the importance of confidentiality.

The document, which includes a link to the board's administrative procedure around inclusion, is posted online in a district newsletter published in January.

A confidentiality clause prevents the district and the mom, who is not being identified to protect the privacy of her daughter, now 10, from discussing details of the agreement.

She is excited and hopeful that moving forward any other child in her situation won't have to go through what our family went through- Mom of transgender girl 

"I'm extremely happy that this matter is now concluded and both my daughter and I can move forward with our lives," she said in an interview with a CBC News, explaining her daughter still fears she'll be forced to use a gender-neutral washroom again.

"But she is excited and hopeful that moving forward any other child in her situation won't have to go through what our family went through."

Their battle first made headlines in May 2015 when former trustee Patricia Grell publicly supported the girl who gained access to the female washroom shortly afterwards.

But the mother continued with a human rights complaint, fearing her daughter would be forced to ask permission to use the girl's washroom from every new teacher or school she encountered.

"I would never in a million years allow my child to be treated as a second-class citizen," she said.

I would never in a million years allow my child to be treated as a second class citizen- Mom of transgender girl

Their story sparked acrimonious debate among elected officials, administrators, parents, students and advocates, eventually leading to a directive from the education minister. David Eggen ordered boards across Alberta to submit policies in support of gender and sexual minority students by March 2016.

Revised policy by the Catholic board's still failed to satisfy some advocates, including the girl's mother. Shown a copy of the new document by CBC News on Tuesday, she said it's a step in the right direction.

The seven recommendations in the document include:

  • "Consult with students and families with respect to accommodating individual needs, protecting the privacy and confidentiality of students, regarding washrooms and change rooms … "
  • "Acceptable and inclusive language must be used in documents and discussions. Listen carefully and use language that the student uses to describe their identity."

  • "Students need to know what a 'safe space' is and why it is important in their school. Included in this discussion should be understanding about gender diversity (identity, inclusive language, correct use of pronouns, etc.)"
  • "Support and respect students for where they are and their need to feel safe. Confidentiality of information is part of supporting our youth."

'A reminder,' says district

District spokesperson Lori Nagy said the document is "a reminder to principals and part of our ongoing commitment to a fully inclusive environment."

"The expectation is that all of our schools and sites will be inclusive," she wrote Wednesday. "It is essential that administrative procedures are followed by all district staff, departments, schools and sites."
A mother and her transgender seven-year-old daughter are battling the Edmonton Catholic School District over a decision preventing the child from using the girls' washroom. (CBC)

The mother said she feels "very hopeful," suggesting teachers might feel more inclined to support transitioning students. 

She recalled her own family's journey, which began when her six-year-old, who liked to wear necklaces and play with Barbies, declared: "I have a girl heart and a girl brain but I'm stuck in a boy body. Why would God do that to me?"

I have a girl heart and a girl brain but I'm stuck in a boy body. Why would God do that to me?- Transgender girl

Board officials decided the girl would use the "everybody washroom," accompanied by two friends, but what disturbed her mom was that she wasn't given a choice.

The mother said as a result of the fight with the school board, her daughter no longer believes in God.

"She had said, 'if people are supposed to be disciples of God, why would they treat me and other children like me or people like me in that manner?' " her mom recalled.

Revised policies due in June 2018

Despite the agreement, future hurdles are on the horizon. Last fall the provincial government passed the Act to Support Gay Straight Alliances, which prevents teachers and staff from outing kids who join a gay-straight alliance.

Boards will be required to revise policies again, and this time they will be required to make them public.

"School boards will need to update their policies to ensure they are compliant with the new legislation and make their updated policies publicly available by June 30, 2018," Eggen said in a statement to CBC News. "Our government is working with school authorities across the province to support the work they do to provide safe and caring learning environments for LGBTQ students."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca
@andreahuncar

About the Author

Andrea Huncar

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Andrea Huncar is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She has also reported from Saskatchewan, Toronto and East Africa.