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Vancouver School Board formally adopts transgender policy

It's official. The proposal that advocates said would make schools safer for transgender students and opponents said would undermine parental rights is now the policy of the Vancouver School Board.

Just as it indicated at a committee meeting last week, the board agreed in a 7-2 vote Monday night to approve a controversial update to its policy on sexual orientation and gender identity.

As expected, trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo -- attending their first board meeting since being expelled from the Non-Partisan Association caucus over a press conference they held about the policy last week -- cast the only dissenting votes.

Fellow NPA trustee Fraser Ballantyne voted for the policy, saying the position of Denike and Woo "is not shared by the NPA caucus."

The policy calls for schools to provide single-stall, gender-neutral washrooms, to "reduce or eliminate the practice of segregating students by sex," and to respect the rights of transgender students to decide how much information about their gender identity to share and with whom, among other things.

Opponents of the policy have said that last provision would prohibit schools from notifying parents that their children are "out" as transgender at school. They have also criticized the board's process, saying it moved too quickly and should have sought opinions from the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons and the B.C. College of Psychologists.

Supporters of the policy counter these criticisms by noting that much of what's called for in the policy is already taking place in schools, including following the leads of transgender students who don't want to tell their parents. The board has heard hundreds of written and spoken petitions on the policy, they argue, including from the medical professionals at Vancouver Coastal Health, which supports the policy.

All of the arguments made on both sides of the debate at Monday's meeting had been made before at one of the board's four committee meetings on the policy.

As they did last week, Denike and Woo characterized their opposition to the policy as a desire for additional public consultation on changes to the plan presented at the board's last committee meeting. Woo attempted to amend the motion to approve the policy to provide for such a consultation, but her proposed amendment was defeated by the same 7-2 margin.

Each meeting the board has held on the policy revision has drawn a large and bitterly divided crowd. The crowd at Monday's meeting was particularly disruptive, with audience members on both sides alternately applauding and booing the proceedings and occasionally heckling board members they disagreed with.

After the vote was taken, pro-policy audience members gave the board a standing ovation. After the meeting, opponents of the policy crowded around the television cameras in the atrium of the school board building, turning their protest signs into the background for news interviews about the decision.

Before the vote, each trustee gave a speech about his or her position, just as they had done at the committee meeting last week. In her speech, chairwoman Patti Bacchus said she had expected the revision of the policy to be straightforward and noncontroversial.

"When we started this, I didn't think we would be making history," she said. "But I'm happy to be part of making history. And I'm really happy to be on the right side of history."

Ian Holliday is completing a practicum at The Tyee. Find his previous stories here.

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