By Brody Levesque | TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA -- The Toronto District School Board announced Thursday that it has introduced a new set of guidelines to ensure transgender equality for students and staff in the Toronto District's 600 schools. School District spokesperson Ryan Bird, said that the guidelines were created as a result of a student’s recent human rights complaint.
"A student was experiencing some difficulties with accessing programs and services specific to his gender identity," Bird said.
The new rules specify that administrators and other staff must keep a student’s gender non-conformity or transgender status confidential and should never disclose it to a parent or guardian without consent from the student.
In dialog with transgender students, the guidelines suggest that the best option is for staff to privately ask transgender or gender nonconforming students at the beginning of the school year how they want to be addressed in school, and in correspondence to the home or at meetings with the parents. Guidelines also state dress codes for such students should be flexible, so they do not have to choose between male or female clothing.
Bird noted that many of the suggestions were used in practice before Wednesday's announcement, the new rules simply codify them into set official policies. The guidelines are posted online on the district's webpage as well as currently being distributed to all district administrative staff and other personnel.
This week's actions by the school district comes as the battle heats up in Parliament over a private bill introduced by MP Randall Garrison from the New Democrat party which would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to give groups based on gender identity and gender expression protection from discrimination. Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders from Alberta, launched a petition against the transgender equality bill as its known, [Bill C-279] labeling the bill as the “Bathroom Bill.”
“Its goal is to give transgendered men access to women’s public washroom facilities,” Anders said on the petition site he has set up against the bill.
Andrea Houston, an activist and reporter with Toronto-based LGBTQ news magazine Xtra.ca, said Anders and other critics of Bill C-279 “want to make trans people out to be some kind of sexual predators and that is just as disrespectful as it is insulting.”
Helen Kennedy, executive director of the national [Canadian] LGBT rights group Egale, said not only Anders got his terminology wrong, but says he ‘obviously needs help’. She said:
"It’s so flawed even in how it’s presented. Anders would do better to spend his time educating himself and talking to people in his constituency who are transgendered."
Garrison's bill passed a second reading last June and is set to go to a standing committee in Parliament as early as mid-month. Houston said Anders needs to be held accountable for his comments about transgendered people as well.
“I don’t believe that he gets to play the stupid card,” she said. “He’s an elected official and he has a portfolio and has a vote. He’s held to the same standard as every other MP in the House.”