The rights of gay, lesbian and transgender students and staff at public schools in Edmonton will soon be protected in writing.

School trustees agreed Tuesday to develop a policy of zero tolerance for sexual discrimination.

"I know in my heart that we have a responsibility to take action," said trustee Leslie Cleary.

The decision followed pleas from parents, students and staff at a schoolboard meeting.

"I want my children to go to a school where faggot is never heard, where a phrase ‘That’s so gay’ is never heard," said parent Kevin Schultz.

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Carol Allen fought discrimination as the first teacher in Edmonton to change gender mid-career. (CBC)

In the end, trustees voted 8-1 in favour. Trustee Cathy Ripley believed district policy already protected against discrimination.

The result was greeted with applause.

'Time for the bullying to end'

"I've seen some bullying happen," said Grade 12 student Vincent Brulotte. "It's time for the bullying to end."

A policy will mean teachers and administrators can no longer ignore discrimination, he said.

"It's not something hypothetical. It's not something where ‘You should be doing this.’ Now it's ‘You have to be doing this.’"

"I’m just overwhelmed," said lesbian activist Dr. Karen Hofmann. "I burst out in tears when I finally saw the vote. It’s something I never expected in my dreams."

"We’ve got a better world, she said. "More diverse, more inclusive."

"I am so happy," said former teacher Carol Allen. "I’m just thrilled to hear that the school board is going to put down in writing a policy not only to protect the kids but teachers as well."

Allen was the first teacher in Edmonton to change gender mid-career.

Gender crisis met with laughter

She recalls the first time she spoke to district administrators in the 1980s about her decision to become a woman.

The reaction was one of laughter, she said.

But she fought back because she loved teaching, she said.

"I still felt I had to work double duty to not make any mistakes; not have any parents complain; not to have any student issues."

"I worked very hard for the rest of my career - 19 more years as Carol - to make sure it went smoothly."

"Now I think that pressure would be off after tonight."

The district will be the first in Alberta to enshrine an anti-discrimination policy.

A school district committee will now research and write the new policy.