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Policy for Albertan LGBTQ students long overdue

By Melanie Woods, January 21, 2016 —

Education Minister David Eggen recently announced the provincial government’s new guidelines for LGBTQ students in the public school system. This document includes, among other items, pronoun usage, gender-neutral washrooms and the creation of safe spaces for diverse orientations and identities.

This announcement is another step in a series of rapid and far-reaching changes affecting LGBTQ high school students in Alberta over the last year. Bill 10, which protects the creation of Gay-Straight Alliances in high schools, was passed last March. And both the Alberta Bill of Rights and Alberta Human Rights Act were recently amended to include articles concerning gender identity and expression.

And now there is formal, written policy that says “all individuals have the right to be addressed by their chosen name and to choose pronouns that align with their gender identity and/or gender expression.”

That’s huge.

In a 2012 poll by the National Post, five per cent of Albertans identified themselves as members of the LGBTQ community. I graduated from a high school of 1,500 students, so that’s 75 people.

I can say for a fact that I didn’t know more than ten LGBTQ people in my school. Of them, notably,  not a single one was out as trans.

I didn’t come out as bisexual until my third year of university. I was questioning in high school, but never open about that part of my identity. In my central Albertan high school, LGBTQ issues were either passed over or simply ignored.

For me, it was easier to just ride out four years of high school in the closet than deal with any personal identity issues. The town where I grew up had little in the way of LGBTQ visibility, and there was no structural support for LGBTQ adults — let alone students. I first learned about bisexuality by watching Glee, which probably isn’t the best way for a kid to learn about their identity. 

I came out in university because I felt safe. From the Q Centre to the recently introduced gender-neutral washroom, the University of Calgary has concrete resources available to LGBTQ students.

The policies introduced by Eggen are the first step toward creating those same spaces in high schools. Hopefully, this means that more young LGBTQ people won’t have to wait until they stumble into spaces where it’s safe to explore their identities. Instead, those spaces will be there when they need them the most.

The NDP has also said that school boards refusing to implement these policies could face dissolution. This is serious business — as it should be.

Forcing  Albertan school boards to implement policy protecting diverse sexual and gender identities is an important step in creating safe spaces for students at the high school level, especially in rural areas that often lack this kind of support.

Having to wait out four years in a school that doesn’t acknowledge, accept or make you feel comfortable in your identity is torture. And it’s a lot harder to figure out your identity in an environment that doesn’t provide any other options.

These practices are vital to creating safe spaces for a whole spectrum of LGBTQ and questioning high school students. More students will feel comfortable exploring, questioning and discovering their gender and sexual identities with policies in place that protect that exploration.

Melanie Woods is a third-year English student. She writes a monthly column about modern social justice movements called Social Justice Cleric

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