transition, trans, transitioning, clothing, appearance, preferred name, school administration, school board, legal issues, human rights, education, teacher education
Tara: It’s been a transition year for your trans child. What has the school been able to do, if anything, or what would you like the school to do?
Dawn: Well, that’s yeah... It’s been pretty difficult. Because it’s been two years this month since she sort of started talking a little bit about feeling like a girl. And then it was in April 2015, where she chose out a different name, and has been pretty consistently identifying as a girl. So, there was really actually last school year, and part of the school year before where this was kind of in play. And the school like, I have to say wasn’t super supportive at the beginning. I’ve talked to a lot of other parents in Ottawa, in like the Ottawa-Carleton board who had different experiences, but I think because the school had gotten a little caught up with the parents having a conflict, and weren’t really thinking about the human rights of the child, and the safe school situation.
So last year, not last school year, at the end of the school year before, I contacted the school and asked them if they would bring Around the Rainbow in to do education, which is like a program that’s run through the Safe, Inclusive, Caring Ottawa School Board. So it’s a partnership between Family Services Ottawa and the Ottawa-Carleton School Board. So they bring a trans identified educator like into the school to educate the staff. And they bring books into the library, and they do different things to make the school a safe space, and then for an individual child, they can also make an accommodation plan for that child. So I requested that, I didn’t get much of an answer. I requested it again, I eventually contacted the superintendent.
So, my understanding about that is that if a parent requests it that they have to do it, it’s not really like a choice, but it took quite a bit of time, and I think that the school was a little bit like, “Mom saying one thing, Dad saying something else, so we can’t put accommodation in for the child.” So then the Around the Rainbow Program, it’s Beck who works there, he’s amazing. And he kind of said well “We can come in and do the general education for the school, we’re not gonna talk about which child is identified, even though we all know which child it is.” So it kind of got around the fact that dad didn’t agree.
So, they came in and they did the education last year, but still there weren’t really a lot of changes in the actual school itself, they didn’t make a universal washroom which was something that I had requested. And then they also didn’t allow her to use her preferred name. So sometimes she didn’t write any name on her paper. And her teacher would write the name that she was given at birth in pen, last year. So I feel like she didn’t feel like school was a very safe place. She told some of her friends like “I’d like it if you use this name” but I think without the leadership of the staff, like it’s a bit hard for kids to understand.
Also, I’d say she was wearing, like, neutral-feminine clothes half the time and then like very stereotypically masculine clothes when she was coming from dad’s house. So that also was a confusing thing. Like I think a lot of people really take their cue about gender from like how people are wearing, and like their haircut. And don’t kinda get that the person doesn’t necessarily identify differently just because their clothes have changed. It’s like if I put on a three piece suit, I wouldn’t suddenly become a man. But, people seem to see it that way without the education. So last year was pretty difficult. And, I think, honestly, a boy dressing in girls clothes some of the time gets teased more than somebody who just identifies as a girl, even if they’re like a trans girl. There’s more difficulty in people understanding, "Why is this boy wearing a pink shirt?" than there is in, "Okay, this person has changed their name." And that’s been my experience so far.