A school board trustee in Prince Edward Island (PEI) has resigned after attempts to raise concerns about the province’s gender identity guidelines fell on deaf ears, reports the CBC.
Patty van Diepen was elected last fall as trustee for Zone 7 but announced that she plans to step down because the board refused to address concerns raised by parents about the gender diversity guidelines in public schools.
“It was just always reinforced that this wasn’t our role or thing to tackle as trustees,” van Diepen told the CBC.
“I felt that I was just maybe viewed as disruptive at some of the meetings, trying to always bring forth these concerns of parents.”
Parents had approached van Diepen after she was elected in November in the hopes that she could argue for the guidelines to be reviewed, but van Diepen’s attempts were dismissed by Board Chair Heather Mullen who claimed that the issue is beyond the scope of the board.
“It’s our job to follow those ministerial directives, which allows for a safe and caring work and school environment,” Mullen told the CBC. “It’s also our job to follow the human rights code of PEI, so those guidelines do align with the human rights code.”
The ‘Guidelines for Respecting, Accommodating and Supporting Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sexual Orientation in our Schools’ were introduced in late 2021 with the intention of providing “equity of access and opportunity for all students and staff to learn and develop in an environment that is affirming, respectful, and inclusive.”
Drawn up with the help of two local trans activist groups, as well as the PEI Human Rights Commission, the guidelines compel school staff to withhold a child’s self-declared transgender identity, name change or change of pronouns from parents. Such policies exist in school boards all across Canada.
Teachers are also advised to pay attention to and reduce the use of gendered language when possible. Using “students” instead of “boys and girls,” or “folks” instead of “ladies and gentlemen” can be more inclusive of gender diverse students and staff.
The guidelines abolish female sports categories and allow any student to self-declare as a member of the opposite sex and be treated as such.
“A student’s self-identification is the sole measure of their gender identity. Any student may participate fully and safely in gender designated sport activities in accordance with their lived gender identity or preference,” reads the guidance.
Girls also lose the right to the safety and privacy of female-only spaces under the guidance, which state that public institutions “have a duty to provide access to washrooms and change rooms that align with a person’s gender identity and expression under the PEI Human Rights Act. Failure to provide access to facilities that best align with a person’s gender identity is discrimination and thus unlawful.”
“Although most schools have separate washrooms and change/locker rooms for males and females, students must be permitted to use the facility that corresponds to their gender identity, regardless of their sex assigned at birth,” school staff are told.
Mullen said that the board is still in the early stages of figuring out its role related to the guidelines.
“We were only in the beginning stages of understanding our role when it comes to the gender equity and diversity guidelines. But we were certainly doing our homework as a board to understand that,” said Mullen.
“It's important to hear the concerns from the community, and what's coming forward, but also to understand that there's other voices in the community too. So even though you might hear from four or five people that are really concerned about one issue, are they representing the whole group of students?”
The PEI Transgender Network, one of the two trans activist groups involved in drawing up the guidelines, accused van Diepen of attempting to spread “anti-trans propaganda.”
“The frustration she's feeling is the inability to spread anti-trans propaganda in a system that very much impacts very vulnerable people, such as trans and 2SLGBTQ+ youth,” Lucky Fusca, the network's executive director, told the CBC.
“I think the message is pretty clear that it's not going to work, and hate is not tolerated here.”
Earlier this year, a local parent group launched a petition demanding the removal of the guidelines public schools. A resolution drawn up by the Morell Consolidated home and school association states that the guidelines “do not respect ALL children and their right to be adulated in an environment free of ideological influences.”
The petition raised questions about the long term psychological, emotional, and physical effect on children being exposed to materials containing gender identity ideology, citing the interim report of England’s Cass Review, which is the independent review of the nation’s gender clinic currently being conducted by Dr. Hilary Cass.
The PEI Public Schools Branch (PBS) responded by reiterating its commitment to providing a safe and inclusive environment for all students.
“While a parent is able to bring an agenda item or motion forward, this does not mean it is reflective of the entire school community or its staff,” the PSB said in a social media post in February.
“We will continue to strive toward creating a more diverse and inclusive community in all our schools and ensure that every student feels safe and welcomed.”
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