A group of parents unhappy with the Vancouver School Board's new policy on sexual orientation and gender identities has taken the matter to B.C. Supreme Court.
Huang Xiaofeng, Li Yuen Ching and Liu Shaohui filed the petition seeking to overturn the VSB's new policy. They say the school board's recent decision is unconstitutional and that the board has no authority under the School Act to introduce it. The petition includes nearly 200 affidavits from about 150 people.
In June, VSB trustees voted 7-2 to approve changes to the board's sexual orientation and gender identities policy. The revised policy and regulations state that transgender students can choose the name and gender pronoun they would like to be addressed by and dress in a way consistent with their gender identities, for example.
The revisions also mean that transgender students can access bathrooms and change rooms that correspond with their gender identity; the school board also pledged to make all-gender and gender-neutral washrooms available at all schools.
The petitioners argue the policy was rushed through, without adequate consultation. The parents know their children "are uncomfortable with sharing very personal information or private spaces with members of the opposite sex and care deeply about privacy when using the washroom or change room," the petition reads. "The Board never consulted with the Parents' children about how they feel about sharing the same washroom and change room with members of the opposite sex."
Only two trustees voted against the policy change: Ken Denike and Sophia Woo. Days before the vote, the two were ousted from the Non-Partisan Association after a news conference that the party said showed a lack of sensitivity and understanding of the LGBTQ community; the two have since joined the Vancouver 1st party.
In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Denike called the petition "a fairly obvious route" for the unhappy parents to take. "It was pretty clear that they could not get a fair hearing at the board," he said.
Ms. Woo said it was unfortunate that the matter had to reach this stage.
VSB Chair Patti Bacchus, who is running for re-election under the Vision Vancouver banner, said the revisions have not substantially changed the 10-year-old policy; rather, they spell out what it means to support transgender students in accordance with the existing policy.
"What this policy revision did is clarify so there is consistency throughout the district that everyone understands what was meant by the commitments in the 2004 policy," she said.
Ms. Bacchus noted many of those who opposed the policy were Mandarin-speaking newcomers to Canada and raised the possibility that the merits of the policy revisions were lost in translation in community consultations.
She also questioned whether there was an element of fear-mongering at play. In Burnaby, a bizarre rumour about schools injecting students with a serum that turns them gay began circulating in recent weeks, reportedly through flyers targeted at new immigrants.
"It's really unfortunate if that's what's happening," Ms. Bacchus said, "that people trying to spread fear and misinformation as opposed to trying to bridge any cultural gaps and give clarity – particularly if people are trying to exploit that language barrier for political gain and cause fear. This is actually harmful to kids."
The VSB has not yet filed its response to the petition.