Cheers, boos greet Vancouver School Board's new transgender policy

Denike, Woo only trustees voting against

The Vancouver School Board adopted a revised sexual orientation and gender identities policy Monday night as supporters cheered and detractors booed.

Grade 11 Kitsilano secondary transgender student Vi Levitt had stopped attending school in March. But after attending the vote Monday night, Levitt intended to enrol again in September with the hope the policy would help teachers make the school more comfortable.

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Gender-queer student Roan Reimer, the district student representative on the VSB’s PRIDE advisory committee that helped draft revisions to a decade-old policy, recalled being verbally harassed by students and hoped the revised policy would help train students to become responsible citizens.

Vision Vancouver school board trustee Ken Clement forwarded the motion to adopt the policy.

He called comments made by trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo last Friday that realtors were worried what would happen if the policy passed “irresponsible and unconscionable.”

The NPA party subsequently expelled the pair from its caucus.

“I am especially pleased that this amendment includes gay aboriginal people,” added Clement, the first aboriginal person elected to the VSB.

“I proudly urge my colleagues to support this recommendation,” he said, receiving hoots of support from people with rainbow flags in the front of the boardroom and boos from people in the back who carried placards that read “Due process is needed from VSB.”

Vision Vancouver trustee Mike Lombardi said in his six years as trustee he’d never seen such an extensive consultation.

Lombardi said the revised policy “basically codifies” how schools are operating. He said the policy about safety didn’t need medical approval but noted Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver, supports the policy.

He added the VSB had provided information about the revision to help everyone understand it.

“Liar!” shouted someone from the back of the room.

The policy’s regulations state: “Students’ rights to discuss and express their gender identity and/or gender expression openly and to decide when, with whom, and how much private information to share will be respected.”

VSB associate superintendent Maureen Ciarniello previously told the Courier the degree of privacy being afforded students under the policy is no different from the confidentiality that counsellors have long provided students. She said most parents are aware of their children’s sexual orientation or gender identity before their school communities are.

Vision Vancouver trustees Rob Wynen and Allan Wong said the policy didn’t exclude parents, that teachers and healthcare providers typically invite parents, who aren’t yet involved, into discussions with their children.

Wong was proud to have approved the initial policy in 2004. He pointed out former COPE trustee Jane Bouey, who worked to get the 2004 version in place. She received a chorus of loud boos from the back of the room.

Denike and Woo argued at least one more consultation meeting was needed.

Denike said the policy hadn’t been translated into Chinese. He said a group called Vancouver School Board Watch had collected more than 6,000 signatures on a petition calling for “proper unbiased consultations” on the policy.

“Mr. Denike’s [views] are not supported by me or the NPA caucus,” said NPA trustee Fraser Ballantyne.

Parents have worried that, for example, a boy, as assigned at birth, could suddenly start using girls’ bathrooms and change rooms.

The regulations, which were approved by all nine trustees except Denike and Woo, say bathroom and change room use will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Ciarniello said a switch wouldn’t happen over night and most of what parents were concerned about equalled bad behaviour, not a student simply using a private stall.

crossi@vancourier.com

twitter.com/Cheryl_Rossi

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