Edmonton

Catholic parents find trustee's transgender comments 'offensive'

Some parents whose children attend Catholic schools in Larry Kowalczyk's ward say they're offended by the trustee's controversial comments that compare transgender people to those with a "mental disorder."

Larry Kowalczyk defends comparison of transgender people to those with a "mental disorder"

'Edmonton Catholic needs to do the right thing'

7 years ago
Duration 7:18
Education minister David Eggen said the time has come for the Edmonton Catholic School board to put aside their differences and form a coherent policy regarding transgender students.

Some parents whose children attend Catholic schools in Larry Kowalczyk's ward say they're offended by the trustee's controversial comments that compare transgender people to those with a "mental disorder."

Kowalczyk made the comparison during a CBC interview Tuesday, hours before trustees discussed a new policy that would support transgender students.
Catholic school board trustee Larry Kowalczyk said he "stands by the church" when it comes to transgender students. (Larry Kowalczyk/Blogspot)

The trustee is now circulating an email defending his statements, saying his opinion is in line with religious doctrine.

"My Catholic commitment remains to respect the dignity of every child," he wrote.

Mela Asefa's son attends St. Philip School in Kowalczyk's ward. She had a strong reaction to his comments about transgender people.
Mela Asefa's son goes to St. Philip school in Catholic board trustee Larry Kowalczyk's ward. (CBC)

"That's offensive to hear," she said. "Very offensive. As a Christian, we should accept everybody."

Asefa said she supports a board policy that would allow the seven-year-old transgender girl at the centre of a controversy to use the girl's washroom at school.

Parent April Reyes said Kowalczyk's comments are "not appropriate" and characterized opposition to the policy as "discrimination."

"I have friends who are transgender," she said. "They can (use the washroom) wherever they want — this is a free country."

Dianne Fedorak has two grandchildren at St. Philip school.

"The most important person here is the child," she said. "However they are most comfortable is where they should be."

Fiore Pagliuso has two grandsons who attend school in Kowalczyk's ward. He thinks the school should have a separate washroom for the girl to use.

"It's a very hard issue," he said. "The whole world is changing. You have to go with the times."

Marni Panas, a Catholic transgender woman, has been active in supporting the transgender girl.

An acrimonious public debate was triggered when the child sought permission to use the girls' washroom at her elementary school. The issue remains unsettled following a heated debate at a board meeting Tuesday night where the new policy on transgender students was being discussed 

Panas wants Kowalczyk to resign.

"My thought right away is that this trustee is not capable of providing a safe place for students," she said.

"You can't hide discrimination under the guise of religion. It doesn't work in our society. It's not appropriate."

Education Minister David Eggen said Kowalczyk's comments were disturbing.

"It wasn't helpful and I think that someone needs to have some serious reflection to what position they decide to put forward," Eggen told Edmonton AM host Mark Connolly Thursday. 

Although Kowalczyk was elected as a trustee, Eggen said the position comes with legal responsibilities, including a duty to ensure a safe and caring learning environment for all students.

Eggen warned the board will face consequences if they don't discuss the draft policy governing transgender students in a respectful manner. On Edmonton AM,  Eggen repeated his demand that trustees deal with the issue as soon as possible. 

"Edmonton Catholic needs to do the right thing and put a coherent policy forward for transgender students," he said. 

Kowalczyk has been at odds with his fellow trustees before.

In June 2012, he was officially sanctioned by the board for actions they believed to be in breach of his duties as a trustee, including swearing at the board superintendent.

Earlier this year, he voted against a program that would help identify and support child victims of sex abuse because he said the program went against Catholic doctrine.

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