Edmonton

Catholic trustees wage war over transgender seven-year-old

A seven-year-old transgender child who wants to use the girls' washroom at school has sparked an all-out war of words within the Edmonton Catholic School Board.

Battle centres on which washroom the child should be allowed to use

"We provide a general neutral bathroom and we tell her this bathroom is for you," says board chair Debbie Engel.

A seven-year-old transgender child who wants to use the girls' washroom at school has sparked an all-out war of words within the Edmonton Catholic School Board.

On one side is board chair Debbie Engel, who said Thursday she never asked for the resignation of a trustee who broke ranks to support the little girl at the centre of the gathering storm.

On other side is trustee Patricia Grell, who recently wrote a blog supporting the girl, whose mother has filed a human rights complaint against the board.
Trustee Patricia Grell recently wrote a blog post supporting the seven-year-old transgender girl.

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

But Engel said the board has decided the girl can use the gender-neutral washroom at school.

She said the board is waiting for the human rights commission to balance the girl's rights against those of the 400 other students.

"We don't think human rights is only going to look at one person," Engel said. "They're going to look at the good of the whole."

'I'm a girl, I'm a girl'

The mother of the child told CBC News her daughter was born as a girl in a boy's body.

"From a young age, 18 months old, she would say, 'I'm a girl, I'm a girl, I'm a girl,' " said the woman, who asked not to be named to protect her daughter from discrimination.

"And sadly, we thought it was a phase, and we didn't listen. Until recently, she stated, 'I'm different. I have a girl heart and girl's brain, but I'm stuck in a boy's body.' "

For now, it seems the child may also be stuck with the gender-neutral washroom.

Asked directly, several times, if the girl would be allowed to use the girls' washroom, Engel refused to give a direct answer.

"We have asked her to use the gender-neutral washroom," she said at one point.

Asked if it would be correct to report, then, that the girl is not allowed to use the girls' washroom, Engel said, "We never said that. We provide a general-neutral bathroom and we tell her this bathroom is for you."

Asked what would happen if the child decided to use the girls' washroom, Engel said, "If she goes in, she goes in. It would depend on the circumstances completely."

But the mother said her daughter did go into the girls' washroom three weeks ago, and a teacher followed her inside and told her, "This is not the washroom for you, you have a washroom that you are to use."

'I think she should resign'

For her part, Grell called on Engel to tender her own resignation.

"I think she should resign," Grell said. "Because our chair is not taking any leadership on this social justice issue. We always say children first, children first. How are we putting children first when we're telling them, 'No, you can't go to the bathroom that you identify with.' "

"She's never said that to me," Engel said. "If she did, I would say, I have done what I was supposed to do as board chair. I've upheld the decision of the board."

Engel said the problem is that Grell spoke out after the board had debated the issue and voted on its position.

"This has become an issue that is far beyond what the issue is," she said. "The issue is, we had a trustee speak out against a motion that was made by the board of trustees, supported by the majority, and segregated herself from the rest of the board."

The mother of the little girl credits the school with creating gender neutral washrooms, but said her daughter is not given the option to use that washroom of her choice. She said the board's position has left her daughter segregated from other children.

'You're segregating her'

"She's the only child in the school who needs an escort to these washrooms," the woman said. "That's where I'm taking issue. Because, you're segregating her. You're outing her. And you're making her feel more different than she already does."

But Engel said the girl is not escorted to the washroom. 

The seven-year-old was diagnosed earlier this year, her mother said, by one of the two psychiatrists in Edmonton who deal with cases of gender dysphoria.

"My daughter is a girl who has a penis," she said. "The prescription really is to live as a female and do everything that females would do."

Engel said the board will now wait to hear from the human rights commission.

"I'm just so disappointed that we have been painted as a district who doesn't care, or is bigoted," she said. "We believe the child is happy and things are going fine at the school."

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