Christine Franes, District Principal of Learning Services, explains the gender-neutral washrooms in school district 52. (Keili Bartlett / the Northern View)

Prince Rupert opens a gender-neutral washroom in every school

The School Board introduced gender-neutral washrooms at the start of the 2017 school year

When students filled the halls at the start of the 2017 school year in Prince Rupert, there was a new addition among them. More than 15 signs for gender-neutral washrooms were installed in School District 52, one for each school and administration building.

The signs, which have both the English and Sm’algyax word for washroom, read “This washroom may be used by any person regardless of gender identity or expression” and can accomodate people with physical disabilities.

“Why wouldn’t you just have a washroom for all people?” asked superintendent Ken Minette. He said the School Board wants to “make sure all students feel welcome in school as they go through changes in their life.” That includes students who are transitioning or may be figuring out how to express themselves.

This changes comes after the B.C. Human Rights Code was amended in July 2016 to include gender identity and gender expression as protected personal characteristics that cannot be discriminated against. In responce, the School Board created the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) committee of students, parents, teachers and district staff.

It was the students of that committee who requested the washrooms. “The kids wanted to be able to use the bathroom without having to ask for special permission or to wonder which would be the right one for them to use. They just wanted to have a safe place to be recognized and acknowledged,” said Christine Franes, the District Principal for Learning Services.

“For some students,” Minette said, “going into boys’ or girls’ washrooms is not a safe situation.”

Students who identify as LGBTQ are three times more likely to experience discrimination. But when inclusive environments are created, the health concerns associated with bullying decrease.

A B.C. study of health disparity for LGBTQ people recently found that suicide rates of straight males went down by 50 per cent in the last school year when they attended schools that have inclusive LGBTQ policies and clubs like Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs).

GSA student clubs in School District 52 have also changed their name to Gay Lesbian or Whatever (GLOW) in an effort to be more inclusive to all sexual orientations and gender identities.

“I really like the name they came up with,” Franes said. So does Minette. While there are GLOW clubs in every level of schools in the district, “you notice it more so in the middle school and high school where gender expression is becoming predominant. The students are more aware and susceptible to feeling the need for a safer environment,” he said.

Once the SOGI committee heard the request, they began working on designs for the signs. The quick turnaround for the project, Franes said, made students feel like their needs had been heard.

“I really think the [gender-neutral] bathrooms are one way that shows all members of the school district community that this is a vibrant and important part of our community. It helps to provide that safety for students, to provide that welcoming and safe space so as to reduce the chances that they will be discriminated against. We are working to raise awareness and we think the bathrooms is one way to do that and reduce the risks,” said Franes.

Minette and Franes both said the responce they have received about the new signs has been positive. Students and staff alike have been using the facilities regularly. For SOGI, the next step will be gathering formal feedback from the students.

“We want to make sure that this is working for them,” said Franes, “because this is who we are doing this for.”

RELATED: LGBTQ health disparity study in B.C. leads to surprise finding



keili.bartlett@thenorthernview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

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

Just Posted

Landlord Lows – Using tools are vital

Rental responsibilites and landlord lows

New LNG terminal near Prince Rupert proposed

AlaskCAN International LNG wants terminal just over Canadian border, but using B.C gas

Kitselas receive $1.2M boost for apprenticeship development program, open to Tsimshian and Haisla Nations

Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education announces $7.5M for six Indigenous training programs

Prince Rupert makes the cut in draft Alaska Marine Highway System schedule

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities releases proposed AMHS schedule

Prince Rupert Rampage roll in Cariboo country

A pair of wins have the Rampage in position to control their own playoff destiny

‘Presumptive case’ of coronavirus in Canada confirmed by Ontario doctors

Man in his 50s felt ill on his return to Canada from Wuhan, China

People knowingly take fentanyl so make policy changes to reduce harm: B.C. study

Dr. Jane Buxton, an epidemiologist at the centre, says drug users need more resources,

‘My heart is going to bleed’: Bodies brought back to Canada following Iran plane crash

Remains of Sahar Haghjoo, 37, and her eight-year-old daughter, Elsa Jadidi, were identified last weekend

UBC grad and sister killed in Iran plane crash had bright futures ahead, close friend says

Asadi-Lari siblings Mohammad Hussein and Zeynab were two of 57 Canadians aboard downed Flight PS752

BCLC opens novelty bet on Harry and Meghan moving to the west coast

Meanwhile, real estate agency points to four possible homes for the family

Coastal GasLink work camp in Vanderhoof gets approved by the ALC

The work camp behind the Vanderhoof airport was first rejected by the commission in October last year

Canada slips in global corruption ranking in aftermath of SNC-Lavalin scandal

The country obtained a score of 77, which places it at the top in the Americas

Wuhan bans cars, Hong Kong closes schools as coronavirus spreads

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her government will raise its response level to emergency, highest one

Most Read