Edmonton Catholic's new draft policy for LGBTQ students criticized

The Edmonton Catholic School Board's new draft policy on sexual orientation and gender identity misses many key elements, advocates for LGBTQ issues say.
Chairwoman Debbie Engel and the rest of the Edmonton Catholic School Board of Trustees have struggled to draft an inclusion policy for LGBTQ students. (CBC)

The Edmonton Catholic School Board's new draft policy on sexual orientation and gender identity misses many key elements, advocates for LGBTQ issues say. 

Kris Wells, assistant professor with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies at the University of Alberta, says the document lacks protections for LGTBQ staff, has no mention of the right of students to form gay-straight alliances, and has no mechanism to ensure the board is following the policy.

"It really meets a minimal standard, it's not inspiring, it's not comprehensive," he said. "It's really a disappointment and a letdown for a board that actually promised to do the work. 

Kris Wells, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, says he was disappointed by the draft policy. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC News )
"This is a 'C' at best, if we were to grade it."

Marni Panas, a Catholic transgender woman and advocate for LGBTQ issues, was equally disappointed. 

"They're still missing a lot of substance in this policy," she said.

The board has been fighting over the issue of transgender students in their schools since the spring, when a seven-year-old transgender student asked to use the girls' washroom at her elementary school. 

Panas said the draft policy offers no guidance on that issue. 

"Every day that we're waiting without a policy, a child is getting hurt, a child is hurting," she said. "This doesn't really help that child feel any better." 

The draft policy will be given first reading on Tuesday. The board plans to hold a consultation period before bringing the policy back for second reading on Nov. 24. 

Education minister watching

Last month, Education Minister David Eggen intervened after trustees held a meeting where they shouted at each other and made inflammatory remarks. Trustee Larry Kowalczyk said transgender students had a "mental disorder."

Marni Panas said the policy isn't comprehensive and doesn't give a transgender girl the right to use the girls' washroom in a Catholic school. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC News )
When Eggen met with board chair Debbie Engel, she assured him the board would come up with a policy that met requirements under the law.

The minister issued a statement Saturday. He encouraged people to read the draft policy and form their own opinions. 

"I, too, will be reviewing this document in the coming days and watching closely as board trustees meet Tuesday," Eggen said. 

Bill 10, passed earlier this year, requires all Alberta schools to allow students to establish gay-straight alliances on school property if they ask for them. 

Wells said the policy makes no mention of GSAs or QSAs (queer-straight alliances). He said protections for LGBTQ teachers are important, to keep them from facing discrimination and job loss. 

The Catholic board was supposed to use the Edmonton Public School Board policy as a template. Like Wells, Panas is concerned about the lack of protection for teachers and other board employees. She noted the word "staff " doesn't appear in the draft document trustees will discuss on Tuesday. 

"And that's concerning," Panas said. "We already have a history in this province of Catholic school boards firing transgender teachers because of their gender identity."

Wells said the latest draft is a "sad shadow" of the public school board's policy, which was passed four years ago. 

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With files from the CBC's Emily Fitzpatrick