[This post comes to us courtesy of Michelle Boyce at the Alphabet Community Centre. -M]
Anna Saunders is a mature student who attended a summer school class at Saunders Secondary School and a teacher decided she was a “guy in a dress”, beginning to use male pronouns and “Sir” when addressing her. The students picked up on the teacher’s behaviour and started harassing Anna during class and following her after school. Anna was left vulnerable and scared. After school officials spoke to the teacher twice about his behaviour, the teacher decided to play the scene from the movie Madagascar for the class where King Julien jumps from the cake and screams, “I am a woman, look at me freaks, I know you are attracted to me”. Anna was devastated, felt threatened and the school board had no disciplinary action towards the teacher, nor did they provide any training on the issue. This was a horrible blatant attack on a student in his class!
Gender issues are a prevalent issue in Thames Valley Schools with students being bullied at atrocious rates when they don’t conform to a stereotypical male or female presentation. 7.1% or approximately 4,900 students didn’t identify as Male or Female on the 2011 Secondary Safe Schools Survey conducted by the TVDSB. Whereas Toronto District School Board just released a policy on Gender Non-conforming students and staff, Barb Sonier, Superintendent of the London Board says by email, “We are continuing to work through the development of the guidelines (which will be very similar to the TDSB guidelines) and endeavour to complete the first draft early in the new year.” No one specializing in Gender Non-conforming youth are being consulted on this policy development.
Michelle Boyce, who operates Trans Youth London which is a joint project of Alphabet Community Centre and the London Public Library, providing a safe space for Trans Youth in the City of London, says that bullying and violence by staff and students is a regular daily routine for Gender Non-conforming kids. Thursday Ms. Boyce was in a Saunders classroom where the teacher completely miss-gendered the student. When confronted the teacher said, “Oh I do it all the time, I’ve talked to the student about it”, with no regard to the harm she was causing. The student missed the next day of school in distress.
Kaylie Sorrenti went through school diagnosed with ADHD, Learning disability, and in grade 9 had a guidance counselor tell her that it was good she wouldn’t complete high school, the world needs more student labour. None of those diagnoses were accurate. Now Kaylie has transitioned from male to female and is a straight ‘A’ student, looking forward to University. But the staff still bully her, and the distress continues. At the height of it all she attempted suicide twice and spent months in a psychiatric hospital, where they couldn’t find anything wrong with her. They blamed the victim; Kaylie needed to get tougher and more able to deal with the bullies. Every one of Kaylie’s teachers at Saunders have bullied her in the past two weeks, violating the Human Rights Code. Kaylie is working hard at getting her education, she is already 2 years behind her peers and the systemic harassment and discrimination keeps tearing her apart.
Jamie Connoly is the head of Laurier’s GSA. A leader in his school and in grade 12. The school refused to put his male name on his student records, so for the past 2 years his report cards, class lists, and all school material were using the incorrect name. A direct violation of the Human Rights Code. Jamie writes, “On Thursday April 26th, 2012 I encountered a very uncomfortable and embarrassing situation. To start off, I will mention that it was the day midterm report cards were to be handed out to all the students. For the average student, this would not be an issue in any possible way (other than finding out their mark is lower than they wish it to be). For me, it’s a little more complicated, especially when there is a substitute teacher that doesn’t really know any of the students too well. I am a transgender female to male student. I have not had my name legally changed and therefore on the reports, it still says my birth name. When it came to the horrifying moment that the substitute teacher called for my birth name, it really created an unsafe feeling for myself.”
Despite repetitive offers to help train teachers and administration on this issue, for free, the London Board of Education has refused assistance on this matter. Students in most schools that gender non-conforming are forced to use staff washrooms or handicapped single stall washrooms regardless of how inconvenient their locations are for the student.
The Director of Education’s anti-bullying taskforce doesn’t contain any experts on LGBT youth and are seen by the community as NOT having a priority within the Thames Valley District School Board’s schools. The London School Board currently has no policy in place regarding Trans Youth in our schools and it is left up to individual principal’s to deal with each situation as it occurs. Without training and support the administration has completely left its employees out in sea without a paddle. Staff don’t understand the issues and repetitively put students in harm’s way as a result.
In EGALE’s school climate study they found:
74% of trans students;
55% of sexual minority students;
26% of non-LGBTQ students;
Reported having been verbally harassed about their gender expression.
37% of trans students;
21% of sexual minority students;
10% of non-LGBTQ students;
Reported being physically harassed or assaulted because of their gender expression.
Trans PULSE is an Ontario survey conducted on Trans populations. Trans PULSE found, “Our results point strongly to the special vulnerabilities experienced by trans youth. Trans youth were nearly twice as likely to seriously consider suicide as those overage 25 , and almost three times as likely to have attempted suicide within the past year”. www.transpulseproject.ca
Immediate attention needs to be targeted to this vulnerable group of youth. The Thames Valley School Board needs to act quickly before more youth die. The London Board of Education MUST provide education in schools, put out fact sheets and finalize policy addressing these issues immediately.
Currently there are 6 applicants filing Human Rights cases against the TVDSB, the offending teachers and administration. We expect many more students past and present to sign on to the complaint as it develops. Gender Identity and Gender Expression were added as grounds to the Ontario Human Rights Code recently although Trans Youth have been protected under the ground of Sex previously.
Executive Director Alphabet Community Centre
Facilitator Trans Youth London
[Phone numbers withheld from public posting.]