Some people barely notice, while others get confused, or even angry, but for the kids that it seeks to include, the Ministry of Education’s SOGI acknowledgement means a lot.
The changes seek to defend kids from bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identification, as well as allow students to choose the way they want to be identified and provide schools with a way to learn more about the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community.
The basic idea is unchanged from what SD69 educators have always sought to do, said Ballenas Secondary School principal Rudy Terpstra: create safe, caring and inclusive schools.
While some of the changes proposed by the SOGI 123 initiative can be pretty small, they can have a big impact for LGBTQ youth, students said.
Part of the plan at SD69 is to have non-gendered, single-stall bathrooms in every school. There’s one at Ballenas now, and members of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) group say it’s made a difference. The NEWS sat down with a group of Ballenas GSA students to find out how they feel about the changes going on at their school, and whether they feel accepted.
“I do like the genderless bathroom,” said Kassidy Cartwright. “Everyone uses the bathroom, so why would you have specific bathrooms for girls and guys? I know some people aren’t comfortable with it, but personally I don’t mind it.”
However, Cartwright said there does seem to be some confusion around it, with boys thinking it’s a male-only bathroom.
“I’ve seen guys walk out and give me dirty looks, like, ‘What the hell are you doing in here?’”
Jasmine Desrochers said she’s also gotten questions about why she uses that bathroom in particular.
But learning about the bathroom, why it exists and why it’s important to some students is part of what SOGI 123 — which school policy changes are based on — is trying to teach teachers and students.
Another policy suggested by SOGI 123 is that students have the right to be addressed by the name they choose, and the preferred pronouns that correspond to their gender identity.
While saying “he” instead of “she” doesn’t seem like much, it can make a big difference, the students said.
“I remember the first time that someone called me ‘sir’ after I cut off my hair from being long,” said Rin Hatcher, who identifies as male.
“I felt so good that day, because someone used the right pronouns, and it was just a cashier.”
But it’s not a consistent response to him, even from teachers, though Hatcher has identified as male since starting to go to school at Ballenas.
Some teachers have even addressed Hatcher by his previous name, which he’s never gone by at Ballenas.
Why getting that right is important is rooted in validation, said the group of GSA students.
When someone is searching for their identity and they think they’ve found it, having the world then validate who they feel they are is a great experience, the students said. For some of the students in the Ballenas GSA, finding their identity has meant identifying as a male, for instance, despite what gender their body is.
So when the people around them use the correct pronoun, or don’t assume their sexuality, that’s the world saying it acknowledges who they are as being valid, they said.
Overall, the group of Ballenas GSA students said they feel pretty comfortable and accepted at their school. That’s despite negative comments they hear in the hall, or seeing posters about LGBTQ positivity or events being ripped down or defaced by students, or cars doing burnouts on the rainbow crosswalk in front of the school.
“Not a lot of schools have what we have,” said one GSA student who didn’t want to be named. “Not a lot of schools have the GSAs, or they aren’t really inclusive about the LGBT community, so what we have is really good for us.”
Recently, several of the Ballenas GSA students, and one from Kwalikum Secondary School, attended a B.C. GSA forum in Burnaby.
One older speaker at the event talked about how she, previously he, had to wait well into adulthood to come out as female, because when she grew up, being transgendered either wasn’t recognized, or when it was, it was condemned.
“That was so sad, because they thought that they couldn’t be themselves,” said Hatcher.
“Trying to force that out of your life… must have been very hard,” Cartwright added.
Seen from that perspective, a lot has changed to make these students feel able to be who they feel they are. Many from the group say they get lots of support from their school community and the wider community. But there is still confusion about what being LGBTQ means and why it’s important to them. These new policies being adopted at local schools and others across the province are looking to change that.