Ahead of a March 31st deadline, the Edmonton Catholic School Board (ECSB) passed a policy on transgender students. But many LGBT advocates are disappointed with last Tuesday’s vote, saying the new policy is insufficient and even meaningless.
Trustees approved the policy in a 5-2 vote, reported Global News. It states that, because “all children are unique, loved by God and created in God’s image,” discrimination should not exist in district schools. The policy does not, however, mention LGBTQ students specifically or support gay-straight alliances, omissions which weaken the policy, say critics.
Marni Panas, the transgender mother of a Catholic school student, criticized the policy as “fine” for other contexts, but insufficient for Edmonton’s Catholic schools:
” ‘I mean 15 months ago, we started this conversation with a policy like that already in place and a child was still discriminated against – this policy doesn’t change that, that could still happen.’ “
The mother of the trans girl whose discriminatory treatment prompted Edmonton Catholic schools’ debate on trans students described the situation as “farther behind” than when it began fifteen months ago. (The mother chooses to be unidentified to protect her daughter.) She told Metro News that Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen should reject the new policy, as it shows “a complete lack of effort” and “protects nobody.”
Kris Wells of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services said the policy approved is “the worst” of three proposed thus far because “it almost means nothing,” reported the Edmonton Journal. He continued in Metro News:
” ‘It’s so generic that it is practically meaningless. . .These kinds of generic policies don’t work when it comes to supporting vulnerable LGBTQ youth.’ “
ECSB chair Marilyn Bergstra and trustee Patricia Grell, the two votes against the new policy, explained their opposition to CBC:
“[Grell,] who first spoke out about the issue last spring, voted against the policy and called it too general and too generic to be of much help to LGBTQ students.
“[Bergstra] also voted against the policy. She spoke about the pervasive ‘myth, fear and a general lack of understanding’ that continues to hamper efforts to embrace LGBTQ students.”
The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s actions around a transgender policy have repeatedly made headlines. Their meetings erupted into a “shouting match” last fall and the Board approved “just discrimination” of some youth in a draft policy last December. Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary described recent guidelines from the Education Ministry to help develop these LGBTQ policies as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic” and later refused to apologize for his harsh remarks. Letters from Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan, and Bishop Paul Terrio of St. Paul were critical too, but less confrontational.
In related news, the Catholic Board of Education in Medicine Hat, Alberta, approved first and second readings of policy updates to protect LGBTQ students that will hopefully be approved in a third reading later this month. The policy updates, which are inclusive of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, are intended to meet provincial guidelines released in January, according to Medicine Hat News.
School districts in Alberta, including Catholic ones (because they are publicly funded), are required to submit LGBTQ policies to the Education Ministry by March 31 for review. There are 24 Catholic school boards in Alberta, including Edmonton and Medicine Hat. Education Minister David Eggen declined to comment about how he would handle school boards in Alberta whose LGBTQ policies fail to meet legal norms. Metro News reported that Eggen said he would evaluate all policies and regulations “in their totality” once they had been submitted.
Generic and meaningless policies may not be approved by Alberta’s Education Ministry, setting up more months of conflict and potential harm to students in the province’s Catholic schools. With just two weeks left before policies need to be submitted, there is enough time for Catholic educators and school officials to prioritize students’ well being over anti-LGBTQ ideologies.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry