A Grade 8 counsellor at David Thompson secondary school says proposed changes to the Vancouver school board’s sexual orientation and gender identities policy will help students feel safe.
Maria Foster told the Georgia Straight that she spends a “significant portion” of her time on the job with students who are dealing with sexual-orientation issues as they reach puberty.
“I’ve got lots of students who come out to me,” Foster said at the corner of West Broadway and Granville Street, as striking teachers demonstrated this morning (June 16). “They may come out to me as bisexual. They may come out to me as gay or lesbian, or they might not really be sure what they’re coming out as, because they’re still exploring who they’re attracted to. I have also worked with many students who have requested transitions. So they requested assistance with having a preferred name, having a preferred pronoun, getting access to a gender-neutral washroom.”
Foster was interviewed hours before school trustees were expected to vote on the LGBTQ policy updates. Tonight’s meeting at the Vancouver School Board Education Centre is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
The counsellor maintained that she supports the proposed changes because she believes public education must be accessible to everyone, including students, parents, and staff who are not heterosexual and people from all across the gender spectrum. The revisions, which have drawn vocal opposition from some parents, would allow trans students to use the washrooms and change rooms that correspond to their gender identity and protect the right to confidentiality of students with gender dysphoria.
“I don’t hope that it will pass,” Foster said. “It will pass if we are an ethical and moral society that says that everybody has access to feel safe and welcome in school, and everybody has the right to have their own group of people reflected in our curriculum, like famous gay, lesbian, bisexual people in history; like looking at intersex people in biology class; like reading French literature from queer people; and watching movies and films, and in PE classes having the option of whether you want to be in the girl’s or the boy’s class, because we still struggle with this idea that gender is a binary when we know that there are over 50 gender identities that people can self-identify as.”
Foster noted that students do better in school when they feel safe. Schools with policies, staff positions, and gay-straight alliances dedicated to inclusion can reduce instances of depression, suicidal thoughts, and high-risk behaviour among students, according to her.
The counsellor called the policy changes a “trump card” that would help her when she encounters “discriminatory and oppressive” viewpoints on LGBTQ issues, whether from other staff, administrators, or parents.
“I can’t say to students that, ‘Hey, I can help you because you’re straight, but I can’t help you because you’re bisexual in regards to sexual orientation. I can’t help you because you self-identify as Latina, and I can’t help the Latinas, but I can only help the Caucasian Canadians,’” Foster said. “The issue with race is the same issue with the gender spectrum and the sexual orientation spectrum. All you have to do is replace the words—and when you do that, you get it.”
On Friday (June 13), the Non-Partisan Association expelled Ken Denike and Sophia Woo from its caucus after the school trustees told reporters that realtors informed them that the proposed changes could hurt international student enrollment.