Maple Ridge secondary wants to make sure everybody is welcome at the school, regardless of how they self-identify.
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board feels the same way, which is why it’s supporting MRSS by approving the first two gender-neutral bathrooms in the district, with more to follow.
A couple weeks ago, two single-stall staff washrooms were re-named as gender-neutral washrooms, and identified as such by putting a picture of a toilet on the door.
Those washrooms can be used by staff or any student – male, female, gay, straight, transgendered or in the process of changing genders, even students who have anxiety.
The impetus to do something came about three years ago when a female student transitioning to male, didn’t feel comfortable using either washroom, says Grade 11 and 12 teacher Maria Trudeau.
That meant she had to wait until she was home before going to the bathroom.
“It’s not fair for a kid to be at school and not be able to use the washroom,” Trudeau says.
The kids in the Gender Sexuality Alliance – Operation Rainbow (formerly the gay-straight alliance), started working on the issue.
Trudeau helped them out and eventually school administration approved creating a gender-neutral washroom.
That also required the school board’s assent, which came in September.
Equality in the bathroom will be celebrated next Monday, Nov. 23, when kids from other gender-sexuality alliances visit the school at noon to celebrate significance of the new washroom.
“It’s something that takes a long time and our principal was supportive,” Trudeau said.
A major obstacle that had to be overcome was the desire to put some wording or label on the door, identifying it as gender neutral. But words could be exclusionary because those could make it more difficult for kids who haven’t announced their transitioning.
“What would actually go into the sign was part of what took so long for the signs to be completed.
“It took lots of back and forth, trying to decide what it was going to be.”
Eventually, it was decided to just go with the picture of a toilet.
“They were so excited to have a washroom which has a picture of a toilet which identifies it as a washroom.”
The male and female student washrooms in the school remain unchanged.
Trudeau says there’s been little reaction at the school since the signs went up. And so far, she knows of only the Vancouver school board having a similar policy.
“It’s always the adults that I find are more shocked, impressed, confused. The kids are saying, ‘Why are you making this a big deal?’ “
Trudeau says currently there are about five transgendered students in the school of about 1,500 students.
In the last few years, there have been 20 to 30 transgendered or transitioning kids at MRSS.
When a student goes through a change, “It’s really remarkable to see that students just kind of roll with it. It’s not the response you’d expect people to have,” Trudeau added.
Grade 12 student Madeline Goodman, with the MRSS gender sexuality alliance, was happy to see the policy in place.
“It’s definitely exciting for the transgender students to have a safe place to use the washroom,” she says.
“We have a very accepting and diverse population.”
The alliance approached the school board last November, requesting the signs, saying that many students don’t feel comfortable using multi-stalled or gender-identified single stall washrooms.
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board chair Mike Murray said the decision is in place district-wide and most schools have complied. Total cost for the signs is less than $1,000.
“We’re not building new washrooms. We’re simply placing gender-neutral signs on washrooms that were single-person washrooms.”
That will be the standard across the school district, he added.
That fits with the district’s safe and caring schools policy, which is about respecting the diverse school population.
Murray said he wasn’t sure if other school districts in Metro Vancouver have similar policies.