Manitoba

Transgender students could get greater protection under proposed Winnipeg School Division policy

Winnipeg School Division could be the first to adopt a policy specifically aimed at protecting transgender and gender non-conforming students.
Winnipeg School Division could be the first school division in Manitoba to adopt a policy specifically aimed at protecting transgender and gender non-conforming students 1:50

Winnipeg School Division could be the first school division in Manitoba to adopt a policy specifically aimed at protecting transgender and gender non-conforming students.

Trustee Lisa Naylor will introduce the notice of motion at a meeting Monday night.
Lisa Naylor, a trustee with Winnipeg School Division, wants to introduce a new policy in schools across the division to accommodate and protect transgender and gender non-conforming students. (Gaune Studios)

Naylor says she found out from students within the division that some didn't even know that gender neutral bathrooms were available. 

"That made me realize that even though we have a lot of supports in place through our anti-discrimination and our anti-bullying policy, it really warrants [having] a policy all of its own that really outlines all the different aspects and ways that we will make schools safe and more caring for transgender students so that they can maintain their dignity and feel respected," Naylor said.

Naylor wants the policy to expand beyond gender-neutral bathrooms, offering protection to students but also providing guidance for teachers on issues that might arise during sleepovers, on school trips, in student washrooms and change rooms, within sports teams and during gym classes. 

"I want to take the confusion away. I want to make sure that families and students know that they will be supported in our division," added Naylor.

Dale Burgos says the policy would be a step in the right direction. 

"Quite frankly if this was in place, none of the things that happened to Bella would have happened," he said.

Burgos says in 2014 his daughter, Bella Burgos, then eight, was bullied by a parent at a school who told the transgender girl she could not use the girls' washroom. Burgos believes the Rivereast-Transcona School Division didn't do enough to help his daughter. The family has since moved to B.C. but Bella's discrimination case will go to a Manitoba Human Rights Commission public hearing.

"This is not just an issue for young kids or older people. We can see now that kids transition as early as two or three, four years old sometimes. [so the policy] is something that I like, that is providing protection and guidance, which is the most important part in education," Burgos said. 

The Winnipeg School Division already requires all junior and senior high schools to have a gender neutral bathroom as an option. All have complied except one but Naylor says that school is in the process of making upgrades. 

Burgos says he's optimistic the changes will help other students.

"I hope the trustees on that board realize that this is something that is very important. It's not about bathroom usage, it's not about change room usage. It's just about being treated equally. through basic human rights," he said.  

If the policy is adopted it would apply to all schools within the division. The motion will go to a vote on November 2nd.

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