Vancouver school board approves new transgender student policy

VANCOUVER — Grammar teachers may need to amend their lesson plans after the Vancouver school board approved Monday a policy change that welcomes a brand-new string of pronouns into Vancouver public schools: “xe, xem, and xyr.”

The pronouns are touted as alternatives to he/she, him/her, and his/hers, and come as last-minute amendments to the board’s new policy aimed at better accommodating transgender students in schools.

The vote came after a brief debate that sparked unrest among opponents of the policy who shouted “dictator” and “liar” at trustees, as security guards and police officers watched from their posts at council doors. But supporters waved pink and blue-coloured flags and drowned out the detractors with their cheers once the policy passed. Three previous public meetings were similarly rowdy.

The vote may be the knockout blow in a bitter and protracted fight over the controversial plan to put gender-neutral washrooms in schools and support students in expressing their preferred gender identities.

“We’re standing up for kids and making our schools safer and more inclusive,” board member Mike Lombardi said in an interview just before the policy was voted in. He said the board was simply putting into policy protections for moves already underway in district schools.

Lombardi said the idea for a pronoun addition was raised during public hearings and was a way to bring clarity to the policy, which allows transgender students to be addressed by their name and pronoun of choice.

“I am so proud to support these policy revisions,” said school board chairwoman Patti Bacchus. “I had no idea how important they were until what we went through with this process ... I didn’t realize how much opposition there was out there in our communities to keeping kids safe and included and welcome.”

Board approval came close on the heels of the final public hearing on the issue, held last week, when doctors and other experts from Vancouver Coastal Health added their voices to others supporting the plan.

Scores of angry parents and community members had attacked the plan during the first two meetings. Some said it could lead to teachers pushing an agenda on children without their parents’ knowledge. Many had called for input from medical professionals.

Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal, and David Hall, a medical director with the health authority, called the policy change “important and necessary” in a letter to school board earlier this month.

“We want to acknowledge that the policy revision process has not been supported by all parents. That is unfortunate and is likely a symptom of misunderstanding,” stated the letter.

Board members Ken Denike and Sophia Woo pushed Monday for another round of consultations, but found no support from fellow board members for more talk on the issue. The pair were the only two to vote against the policy.

The change expands the board’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, questioning policy, first drafted in 2004.

Monica Moberg, the head of Vancouver’s District Parent Advisory Council, said in a letter last week that the DPAC executive supported the policy.

Ken Clement, a board trustee, called comments made last week by opponents to the new policy that it would harm real estate prices in Vancouver “frustrating.”

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