Signs signalling transgender people are welcome to use the washroom facilities of their choice went up at Alberni District Secondary School in late October.                                SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Signs signalling transgender people are welcome to use the washroom facilities of their choice went up at Alberni District Secondary School in late October. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

New washroom rules a win for transgender students at Alberni high school

New rules, signs allow transgender students to use washrooms of their choice

For the first time in their lives, transgender students at Alberni District Secondary School will be able to use whatever washroom they need to, without having to ask for a key or stand in a lineup.

On Oct. 22, “Trans Welcome” signs went up on all the washrooms in the high school, making it clear that transgender students are welcome in washrooms and changerooms that match their gender identity.

“When I first found out about the bathrooms, it was an immediate sense of ‘I can finally be who I am,’” said one trans student the Alberni Valley News interviewed.

“I remember the excitement and the euphoria when it was announced,” teacher Anne Ostwald said.

“I cried,” another student said.

Another student also remembers the fear when the signs were ripped down.

SPECIAL REPORT: Gender neutral conversation shifts into overdrive

School District 70’s decision to put up the signs has prompted a tsunami of comment on Port Alberni social media sites, as people passionately debated the new policy. While the atmosphere in the school has been fairly muted, trans students say that adults outside of the school have blown the issue way out of proportion.

“It’s just sad,” they said.

There are about a dozen transgender or gender-variant students who attend ADSS.

“Then there are those who haven’t come out or who haven’t figured it out,” they said.

They just want to be able to go to the washroom in the facility that matches their gender identity.

“There are transgender youth at ADSS,” says Greg Smyth, superintendent of schools in School District 70. “They have largely been a marginalized group in schools and society. We don’t think there’s going to be a sudden (rush) of ‘I’m going to exercise my right and I’m going to use the washroom.’ But if they choose to, they have the right.”

The decision to put up the signs and open the washrooms is based on a 2016 Canadian Human Rights Code decision that sexual orientation is considered a right. The school district is actually behind in making this change, Smyth said.

The school district has drafted a policy on diversity and inclusion that has been prompted, in part, by Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), which school districts in British Columbia are supporting—including SD70.

“This is not about putting a sign on the wall,” he said. “Acceptance is much, much more than that. And it’s not limited to accepting transgender youth, it’s anybody who is different. This is just one more step down that path.”

Smyth said there is a prevailing attitude in the community that “by addressing individual rights you’ve taken away the rights of others. It’s not true. Females who identify with their gender at birth can still use the female washroom. Same for guys. Their right has not been removed.

“We have just acknowledged that there is an equal right to use it.”

Gender identity “is not purely biological”, he said. “We’ve broadened the definition of male and female to include gender identity. We know there is a percentage of our population which still holds onto the thought that gender is based on biology.

“As a school district, we can’t continue with that singular definition of what is male and what is female. To act as if there is a single definition of male and female, is deemed to be discriminatory.”

For trans students, the need is much more simple: they need a place where they can go to the toilet and do it safely. Because they haven’t been going—at all.

“I just avoid going,” they said.

“You wait until you go home. Which for many of us is more than six hours. I leave the house at 7:20 a.m. and don’t get home until 4:20. I wouldn’t use the bathroom.”

“I’m not girl enough to go in the girls’ bathroom (without being ostracized) and not boy enough to go in the boys’ bathroom,” said another.

The high school has given access to three gender-neutral washrooms for about a year: one in the sick room, one in the staff room and the third in the family washroom on the lower floor. The problem with these washrooms, said one student, was that if the sick room was occupied by another student, that facility was off limits; the one on the lower floor is popular with students skipping classes, and there is often a lineup. The gender-neutral washrooms were available for everyone’s use.

“There were teachers that said trans (students) couldn’t use the bathroom during their class because it took too long,” one said.

An inclusive school environment is about more than changing washroom signage, Smyth wrote in his letter to parents. “It’s about understanding, appreciating and accepting the diversity of our school communities; it’s about creating safe, welcoming and supportive schools…”

Despite the new signs going up, not all trans students have used the washroom that matches their gender identity. Two admitted that they had—but that they hid until they were certain the washrooms were empty before entering.

Smyth is quick to silence critics who say the new rules and signs will only encourage people to take advantage—boys declaring they are transgender so they can gain access to the girls’ washroom, for example.

“Mr. Souther (principal Rob) was really clear to students…this isn’t licence to say tomorrow I’m going to be a girl so I can go into the girls’ washroom,” Smyth said. “People will be addressed in an appropriate way” if they do.

Trans students at ADSS agree that the “trans welcome” signs are a good step toward acceptance. The school also supported Pride Day at ADSS for the first time last year, which was also considered a victory.

“They’ve all been tiny, incremental steps, and they’ve been building up nicely,” said Ostwald, who helps students find their voices through her Social Justice and Social Studies classes.

The next step, they hope, will be “understanding and empathy. And maybe people not attacking us.”

Students were interviewed for this story with a teacher present and granted anonymity so they don’t become further targets in the community.

editor@albernivalleynews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An acre of the former ‘Bus Garage’ property has been sold to Naked Naturals Whole Foods Ltd. (Town of Qualicum Beach photo)
Qualicum Beach sells prime downtown property to Naked Naturals for $2.75M

Town to retain more than an acre of land for development of public amenities

Environment Canada is forecasting snow for the east Vancouver Island region the weekend of Jan. 23. (Black Press file)
Up to 15 cm of snow forecast for Parksville area this weekend

Snow to begin Saturday night, according to Environment Canada

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

Colin Springford expressed his thanks following a birthday truck parade that was held for him on his 75th birthday on April 10, 2020. (Submitted photo)
Longtime Nanoose Bay farmer Colin Springford dies at age 75

‘He will be deeply missed, always loved and never forgotten’

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

The cost of potentially counting deer regionwide was among the issues that prompted Capital Regional District committee members to vote against pursuing a greater CRD role in deer management. (Black Press Media file photo)
Expanded deer management a non-starter for Greater Victoria

Capital Regional District committee maintains current level of support

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Jan. 21 marks the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century, according to some. (Black Press Media file photo)
The 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century is upon us

Milestone won’t be back for another 100 years

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Aquaculture employee from Vancouver Island, Michelle, poses with a comment that she received on social media. Facebook group Women in Canadian Salmon Farming started an online campaign #enoughisenough to highlight the harassment they were facing online after debates about Discovery Islands fish farms intensified on social media. (Submitted photo)
Female aquaculture employees report online bullying, say divisive debate has turned sexist

Vancouver Island’s female aquaculture employees start #enoughisenough to address misogynistic comments aimed at them

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Most Read