Nova Scotia

N.S. students will soon be able to mark their gender as X at school

Students in grades 7 to 12 can make the change themselves, while those in pre-primary to Grade 6 need parental approval.

Students in grades 7 to 12 can make change themselves; pre-primary to Grade 6 need parental approval

Students at schools across Nova Scotia will soon be able to mark their gender as X. (Shutterstock/nito)

Nova Scotia students in grades pre-primary to 12 will soon be able to have their gender recorded as X at school.

Right now, the computer systems used by schools only record a student's sex — whether they were documented as female or male on their birth certificate or other legal documentation.

This month, the category of sex will be replaced with gender, allowing students to choose F for female, M for male or X for non-binary, transgender, gender fluid, gender diverse or another gender identity.

"I think that this is a really substantial change for a large number of our students across the province," said Joanne Syms, the safe and inclusive schools consultant for the Education Department.

"Safe and inclusive learning environments are essential to children and youth's engagement and success in school," reads a notice sent by the Education Department to parents last week. "When they feel validated, affirmed and secure, their ability to learn is significantly enhanced."

Students in grades 7 to 12 can request a gender change themselves, but kids in pre-primary to Grade 6 will require parental consent. If there is disagreement between the child and parent, "schools will make the decision that causes the least amount of harm to the child/youth," the notice says.

Misgendering poses safety risk

Kate Shewan, the executive director of the Youth Project, an organization that supports LGBTQ youth, said the change is a positive step.

"Anything that is going to help the students feel more included in a school I think will benefit the learning environment," she said.

Shewan said she has heard many stories about students who have been misgendered in the classroom, especially by substitute teachers who may use a printed class list containing the student's wrong gender or name to take attendance.

Those situations can cause a lot of distress to trans students and can even pose a safety risk.

"Trans students are subject to high levels of harassment and violence. So being outed as trans can subject a student to those kind of actions," she said.

Shewan said sometimes trans students will simply skip class to avoid being misgendered if a substitute teacher is called in.

Hanley Smith, a Grade 11 student in Halifax, said they can feel uncomfortable and anxious when they're misgendered in class.

The change will allow Smith to not have to explain their pronouns to every new teacher, they said.

"It means that I'm not going to have to worry about whether a teacher will accept me when I have to tell them face to face who I am," they said.

Smith said this will go a long way to normalizing the culture around being transgender or non-binary.

"The change is something that not only me but a bunch of people have been fighting for since we were kids," said Smith. "This is one of the best ways we have done yet to fight ignorance."

Legal gender change not required

Students do not need to have their gender legally changed through Vital Statistics in order to request the change at school.

In January, changes to the Vital Statistics Act allowed Nova Scotians to choose X as their gender identity on their birth certificate.

Students have been able to have their preferred first name used at school and on school documents since 2018.