New guidelines for Quebec schools to support trans and gender non-conforming students

The recommendations include that schools use the pronouns and name the students want to be called, allow them to use the washroom, changing room and residence of their choice and to reduce the number of activities that divide across gender lines.

Recommendations say schools should respect students' choice of name, pronouns

Ninth grader Toby Kimmelman say the guidelines will help trans and gender non-conforming students feel safer and less isolated at school.

High school can be hard enough to navigate for teens, but coming out as gay, gender non-conforming or transgender can add another challenging layer for students in schools without a framework for how to support them. 

In June, Quebec amended its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to provide explicit protection against discrimination based on gender identity.

What followed is a guide for Quebec schools and teachers on how to make their environments more inclusive. 

The guide, released Thursday in Montreal, was put together by 34 interest groups, including school boards, advocates as well Quebec's education and justice ministries. It offers a number of recommendations for schools to implement.

"It'll make you feel less alone," said Toby Kimmelman, a transgender student in the 9th Grade at MIND, an alternative Montreal high school, of the guide. 

Pronouns of choice and less gendered activities

Among the recommendations is that schools use the pronouns and name the students want to be called, and allow them to use the washroom, changing room and residence of their choice. It also includes reducing the number of activities that separate students across gender lines. 

"I think it's very important because, at schools, if you're trans, you feel very isolated," Toby said on Daybreak Friday morning.

Toby said one of the most important recommendations to him is that the pronouns of the students' choice be used. 

"Because then they feel comfortable and get used to how they are as a person."

Confidentiality is another important factor for the teen, who says it's crucial for the student's safety and for them not to feel treated differently.

'These guidelines should have an extremely positive impact'

Kimberley Manning, the principal of Concordia University's Simone de Beauvoir Institute and a founding member of Gender Creative Kids Canada, says she believes the guide, if implemented, will make a big difference in the lives of trans and gender non-conforming students.

"There's no question in my mind that these guidelines should have an extremely positive impact," Manning said, also speaking on Daybreak. 

Kimberley Manning, right, says her daughter Florence's success is a testament to what a difference a supportive learning environment can make. (Courtesy of Kimberley Manning)

Manning said research shows children whose gender expression is supported by their family have mental health outcomes that are on par with the non-transgender population as they grow up.

Without that support, though, they can develop high levels of anxiety and even experience suicidal ideation, she said. 

"There is a really critical need for support in the home and learning environment," Manning added.

She says her the academic and social success of her daughter, who is trans, is a "testament to what these kinds of changes can make."

Jacques Petrin, who coordinated the guide, said that if schools don't take action against discrimination against students' gender identity, they can be pursued in court.

The English Montreal School Board says it has not made a decision on whether it will implement the guide's recommendations or not, but that it is reviewing it.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak