The Vancouver School Board recently released a new policy that would allow transgender students to use the washrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity. This policy seems to be one of the most progressive policies regarding the support of transgender students. However, a group of parents have started to take legal action against the school board stating that sharing facilities with the “opposite sex” makes their children feel uncomfortable.
The argument used by these parents would baffle many, as they are essentially arguing that allowing transgender students to use the facilities of their choice encroaches on other students’ privacy. However, the reality is that when transgender individuals are forced to use the washroom dedicated to the sex assigned to them at birth, much more is on the line than just thoughts of privacy. Gendered facilities can produce awkward or dangerous situations for transgender students, given that societal expectations of what constitutes a “normal” gender identity are heightened in these situations.
It is also important to note that the policy put forth by the Vancouver School Board calls for much more than transgender students being able to use the facilities of their choice. The policy also states that transgender individuals should be addressed by the name that they have chosen to fit with their gender identity and also allows for the students to choose the group with which they are most comfortable in physical education classes. Both of these changes are important, but the former is important and should also be expanded to the use of appropriate pronouns when referencing transgender individuals.
The policy also calls for gender-neutral washrooms, similar to the ones found on many university campuses. This is an important part of the policy because it provides an alternative solution to the “problems” noted by some parents. The truth is, gendered facilities can make a broad range of individuals uncomfortable regardless of whether they are transgender, cisgender, or anything in between.
Here is where the gender-neutral facilities come into play. Gender-neutral facilities are often single-stalled and allow for a greater amount of privacy for anyone who uses them, meaning that transgender students can use them without the fear of outing themselves or being placed in the uncomfortable situation of having to choose between two sets of washrooms that don’t take other gender identities into account. This also means that students who are uncomfortable with the policy’s proposed changes can use these facilities as well.
However, in no way should gender-neutral facilities be used as a stand-in for giving transgender students the choice to use the facilities that fit best with their identity. This freedom of choice is extremely important, as it could lead to a greater acceptance and understanding of transgender issues that should certainly be modeled by many other institutions.
The issue put forth by the group of parents wanting topple this new policy could be reduced to their lack of understanding of transgender individuals’ experiences. This seems to point out that a greater amount of education on gender identity should be worked into the curriculum in schools so that students can have a greater understanding of their transgendered classmates.
Hopefully this policy will be maintained, as it means much more than just having a choice of facilities; it also extends to transgender students being able to feel heard by an institution that for so long has been a place where bullying and intolerance have reigned.