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Archdiocese of Vancouver agrees to accommodate transgender students

Independent Catholic schools in Vancouver have quietly approved a policy to accommodate transgendered students after settling a human rights complaint by 11-year-old Tracey Wilson after she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, but could not be accommodated in her request to be treated as a girl.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

An 11-year-old student has persuaded the Archdiocese of Vancouver to challenge the teachings of the church with an elementary-school policy that supports her right not to be forced to use the boys' washroom.

In a resolution to a human-rights case filed on behalf of Tracey Wilson – who was born a boy, Trey, and now lives as a girl – the Archdiocese of Vancouver on Wednesday announced it would accommodate elementary students' gender expression. That made it the first Catholic school district in Canada to develop such a policy and bypassed – at least for now – the public uproar that accompanied a similar initiative the Vancouver School Board approved in June.

"What I went through was very painful and very hurtful and a lot of time I felt like I was alone," Tracey said on Wednesday. "I just don't want anyone else to feel that way."

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The new Catholic policy puts students' safety and acceptance ahead of Catholic teaching, which – according to the policy, posted online Wednesday – "teaches that gender is given by God and that the body reveals the divine plan. As such, humans are not free to choose or change their sexual identity."

Nonetheless, the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese (CISVA) has approved a policy designed to provide an environment where children like Tracey can change their names, the way they dress or which bathroom they use without running afoul of school policies or officials.

The policy will be a "practical basis" for accommodating students with gender dysphoria or who express their gender in ways that are different from prevailing stereotypes, CISVA superintendent Doug Lauson said in a statement.

Public school boards in other jurisidictions, including Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, have developed policies to accommodate transgender students. Vancouver approved its policy – an update of one first introduced in 2004 – in June, following months of heated debate over issues such as gender-neutral washrooms and student confidentiality.

The Archdiocese of Vancouver developed its policy after Tracey filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal because her school did not accommodate her request to be treated as a girl. That complaint was resolved Wednesday when CISVA approved its new policy. CIVSA also paid an undisclosed sum to the family as part of the settlement.

The impetus of the agreement dates to 2012, when after months of counselling and medical advice, the family concluded Tracey would be happiest and healthiest if she lived as a girl. Tracey's mother, Michelle Wilson, and her husband had started looking into transgender issues years before in a quest to better understand their child, the eldest of three.

But when it was time for Tracey to go back to school in the fall, school wasn't ready for her. "The school didn't have a policy in place and quite frankly, didn't know what to do with us," Ms. Wilson said.

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In some activities outside school, such as dance, Tracey was participating as a girl. While at school, she was expected to be a boy. She became anxious and depressed and her parents pulled her out of school. She now attends a public school in Ladner, B.C.

The family filed a human-rights complaint and has spent the past few months working with lawyers and CISVA to develop the new policy for the Archdiocese.

"If it would have been just Tracey, we would have moved on and not looked back," Ms. Wilson said. "But it was important for us to make it that no other family or child would have to go through that."

The Archdiocese says Tracey's request for accommodation was a new issue for the CISVA and that its new policy will ensure her experience is not repeated.

The new policy of the Archdiocese was announced with a press release. By contrast, the Vancouver School Board's policy was approved following months of discussions and several public meetings.

Days before a scheduled vote on that policy, two school board trustees convened a news conference to highlight purported concerns that the policy could result in declining student enrolment. The trustees were subsequently expelled from the caucus of the Non-Partisan Association, a civic party.

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About 14,000 students are enrolled in CISVA's 49 schools, which include elementary and secondary schools.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More


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