Featured member: Jessica MacDonald, Carleton University placement student
As the visibility and awareness of transgender identities increases throughout the years, it is important that policies and social practices follow, ensuring that the spaces meant for learning and developing are welcoming and inclusive to all students, including those of varying gender identities. [i] Five years ago, the Ontario Human Rights Commission acknowledged this transition of increased visibility of trans* individuals and subsequently amended the Ontario Human Rights Code by adding that gender identity and gender expression be protected against discrimination. [ii]
Every child has the right to education in a safe and accepting environment, which, for trans* children/youth, includes opportunities equal to their cisgender peers, the introduction and use of gender neutral and gender inclusive language, access to supportive services and resources for trans* and questioning youth, and showing respect towards an individual’s identity without requiring an affirmation of gender or sexual identity.[iii]
Trans* Inclusive Policy
Individuals that live gender diverse lives are protected across various platforms. Within the province of Ontario, gender identity and gender expression are protected within the Ontario Human Rights Code. While this covers a wider range of fundamental components of everyday life, there are some policies in place within these social areas, such as the workplace and schools that further ensure the protection of individuals within these spaces.
Within the education system itself, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation created a policy to protect staff and students from harassment and bullying based on sexual or gender identity. Focusing locally, one of the four school boards of Ottawa, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), developed and implemented a specialized guide for supporting students in their gender identity and gender expression.[iv] Introduced in February 2016, the implementation of this document promotes safe and inclusive education within the OCDSB, but also brings hope for other school boards to adopt similar policies within their infrastructure.
Ontario Human Rights Code
The Ontario Human Rights Code was put in place to protect Ontario citizens from discrimination based on certain grounds within certain social areas,[v] and since being enacted in 1962, it has implemented new ‘grounds’ for discrimination, including sexual orientation, and gender identity and gender expression.
While sexual orientation was added in 1986 to align with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, gender identity and expression was not added as a ground for discrimination until 2012.[vi]
Grounds for Discrimination: Gender Identity and Gender Expression
Prior to the 2012 amendment of the Ontario Human Rights Code, discrimination against gender and gender identity was loosely protected under the ground of “sex”. However, this means that gender and sex become conflated. “Sex” is not defined within the Ontario Human Rights Code, but refers to biological sex as male or female, giving men and women equal protection.[vii]
This ground (“sex”) ultimately protects men and women from discrimination and harassment surrounding their abilities and how society believes they should act, and dress based on stereotypical presumptions of being male or female.[viii] The problematic issue here was that it did not allow for persons, whose identity falls outside of the gender binary, to be safely covered..
Thus, in 2012, “gender identity and gender expression” was added to the Ontario Human Rights Code as a ground for discrimination, providing protection to anyone regardless of their gender identity or gender expression. This includes transgender, non-binary, androgynous, and intersex people, among others whose gender identity and/or expression is not the same as their biological sex.[ix]
Canadian Teachers’ Federation: Policy on Anti-Homophobia and Anti-Heterosexism
The Canadian Teachers’ Federation implemented a policy in 2004 to create an environment for staff and students that is “safe, welcoming, inclusive, and affirming for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.”[x] For this policy to be a success it required educators of different capacities (such as teachers, counsellors, school boards, etc.) to create positive change to the manners in which sexual and gender minorities are viewed, treated, and even disregarded.[xi] This change started within the schools, but through educating staff and students, its goal of positive change has spread to areas outside of the school districts.
Ottawa-Carleton District School Board: Inclusive, Safe and Caring Education
As part of their mandate to promote and ensure inclusive education for all students, in February 2016, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) developed a document entitled "Gender Identity and Gender Expression: Guide to Support Our Students." [xii] Not only does the document set out to protect students against bullying and harassment, but it also works to raise awareness of non-traditional ways of living, and help others to understand and accept these differences.[xiii]
The Gender Identity and Gender Expression guide outlines roles and responsibilities particular to students, parents, staff, and the district, in ensuring that schools within the OCDSB are striving towards inclusive spaces for gender diverse youth.[xiv] While it is important and ground-breaking that the OCDSB has moved above and beyond the Ontario Human Rights Code’s protection from discrimination and harassment and included this within its policy framework, it is the only school board within Ottawa that has adapted an inclusive guide specifically based on gender diversity.
[i] Orr, Asaf, and Joel Baum. “Schools in Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools.” Gender Spectrum, (2016): 1-68. Web. 8 Mar, 2017, at 16.
[ii] “Gender identity and gender expression.” Ontario Human Rights Commission, http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/code_grounds/gender_identity. Accessed 28 Feb, 2017.
[iii] Orr, and Baum, supra note 1 at 3.
[v] “The Ontario Human Rights Code.” Ontario Human Rights Commission, http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/ontario-human-rights-code. Accessed 28 Feb, 2017.
[vi] “A bit of history.” Ontario Human Rights Commission, http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/bit-history. Accessed 28 Feb, 2017.
[vii] “Sex.” Ontario Human Rights Commission, http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/code_grounds/sex. Accessed 28 Feb, 2017.
[ix] Supra note 2.
[x] Canadian Teachers’ Federation, as cited in Wells, Kristopher, Gayle Roberts, and Carol Allan. “Supporting Transgender and Transsexual Students in K-12 Schools: A Guide for Educators.” Canadian Teacher’s Federation, (2012): 1-68. Web. 5 Mar, 2017, at 41.
[xii] Agard, et al., supra note 18.