VANCOUVER—Students attending local Catholic schools who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria can now receive special accommodation, thanks to a new policy.
The document addresses the possibility for students with this psychological medical condition to request changes to their preferred name, dress code, and accessibility to bathrooms and change rooms.
"This policy only puts down on paper what we've been doing for years with special-needs children," said Doug Lauson, superintendent of Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese (CISVA).
In Catholic schools, a case management team exists to support every student with special needs. The teams, made of parents/guardians, doctors, educators, other professionals, and pastors, find ways to best help the student learn in a healthy environment.
"A gender-dysphoric child will now have the same support," and be considered on a case-by-case basis, Lauson said.
Gender dysphoria is a "marked incongruence between one's experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, of at least six months' duration ... associated with clinically significant distress or impairment in social, school, or other important areas of function," according to the American Psychiatric Association.
The policy was a joint effort between CISVA and the family of Trey, now Tracey, Wilson, who was attending Sacred Heart Elementary in Delta.
"It was really hard for me because I did not feel accepted at school," said the student, who was born a boy but expressed the wish to dress and act like a girl in 2012.
When the family found the school unprepared to meet the child's needs, it filed a human-rights complaint.
Mary Margaret Mackinnon, the lawyer for CISVA, said that there was no policy in any Catholic school district in Canada at that time, requiring CISVA to do extensive research on Catholic teaching and scientific/medical research.
The child was withdrawn from the school within weeks of advising the school of the family's accommodation request.
CISVA is the first Catholic school district in the country to institute a policy for students with gender dysphoria. "We were dealing with something which was an untravelled field," she said.
"The Catholic Church's teaching is clear: body and soul are united," Lauson said. "One cannot change one's sex, and even if a boy declares that he is a girl, we believe that he is still a boy."
However, "the Catholic faith teaches us that every person is a child of God and that every person is created uniquely and is loved by God."
A student's case management team will consider the child's diagnosis along with the reasons for requesting a name, uniform, or bathroom change, and find appropriate ways to accommodate the student.
Lauson said this may include allowing the child to use a private washroom or wear the gender-neutral physical education outfit.
He added in severe cases of gender dysphoria, children might show suicidal tendencies, in which case the team may decide allowing the student to dress in the uniform of the opposite gender is the best way to help them.
Mackinnon considers this case-by-case approach "much more responsive to reality" than policies she sees in other public schools.
"The policy is meant to be interpreted by schools as something that looks very much at each individual student and how, in our faith community, we can help them grow and keep them close to God's love, respecting the fact that we have certain constraints."
This policy, and a sum of money both parties agreed not to disclose, has resolved the human rights complaint.
It "is a very important step towards acceptance of gender-variant youth in Catholic schools," said Michelle Wilson, Tracey's mother. Her children now attend public schools.
Lauson said principals, teachers, and other school staff will have workshops on the policy before school gets back into full swing in September.
The document can be found online at www.cisva.bc.ca.