Three Vancouver parents are pressing ahead with a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit demanding the Vancouver School Board change a transgender student policy that they say takes away people's right to know about any change in the gender identity or sexual orientation of their children.
Lawyer Masao Morinaga said on Monday that his clients' main concern is that the policy passed last year allows students to keep these matters secret from their parents. Under the policy, students can request that their conversations on gender identity or sexual orientation with school counsellors and staff be kept confidential.
The petition was filed last November and Mr. Morinaga said he hopes to schedule a hearing in Vancouver's B.C. Supreme Court in the next several months. He said he has affidavits from about 175 other parents, mostly from Vancouver's Chinese community, in support of the petition.
In an affidavit explaining the policy, Maureen Ciarniello, Vancouver's assistant superintendent, said students can feel unsafe sharing their gender identity or sexual orientation with their parents because they "sometimes fear that they will be kicked out of their families."
"In general, breaking confidentiality only occurs when a student speaks of harm to self and/or harm to others," Ms. Ciarniello said in the affidavit.
A year ago, the school board's approval of a new plan for unisex school bathrooms and more gender sensitivity in its classrooms drew outrage from some parents in the Christian and East Asian communities. The Non-Partisan Association party kicked out school trustees Sophia Woo and Ken Denike after they held a news conference at a Chinese restaurant aimed at stopping the board from implementing the new policy. They suggested that real estate agents had told them people in Asia would stop buying homes in Vancouver and sending their children to school there, and the board would lose money as numbers of paying international students dropped.
Meanwhile, a nationwide survey recently showed washrooms and changing rooms are where Canada's transgender youth feel the least safe. The new University of B.C. study – the first and largest of its kind in Canada – surveyed more than 900 transgender youth on home and school life, physical and mental health care and gender identity.
Elizabeth Saewyc, the study's principal investigator and a nursing professor at UBC, said two thirds of those surveyed reported discrimination because of their gender identity. She noted that at a very early age, children learn which washrooms they are supposed to use, and that many people have had the experience of going into the "wrong one."
"Equally, there is this issue that other people have opinions about where you belong that may be completely based on snap judgments that are inaccurate," she said.
Dr. Saewyc said universal washrooms for one user at a time help, but caution is important.
"It's important that universal washrooms, single-use washrooms, are not exclusively targeted for trans use," she said, noting that schools should work closely with their communities on solutions.
The universal washrooms – designated by the Vancouver School Board as single-stall, wheelchair accessible and gender non-specific – were built into a school district policy that went into effect a year ago.
"Each gender-neutral washroom will have a privacy lock and be identified with toilet symbol, rather than a gender specific symbol," said Jim Meschino, director of facilities.
Universal washroom space is now usable in all 18 of the district's secondary schools. In existing schools, for example, washrooms that may have been used previously for staff have been converted to universal.
Alex Grant, principal of Eric Hamber Secondary School, said in a recent interview that private, single-user washrooms have long been available for students who made the request through a school counsellor, adding that the designation is just "formalizing something that's been an arrangement for a number of years."
Mr. Meschino said that "as new facilities are built across the district, universal washrooms are a part of the planning process."