Trans students say Hamilton schools need to do more to protect and support them

Transgender students and their families say Hamilton’s public and Catholic school boards need to do more to protect and support them as they deal with everyday student and staff issues.

Crystal Kells, who uses the pronouns they/them, says their 10-year-old transgender daughter Keeyan has been having trouble with her Grade 4 teacher at St. Joachim Catholic Elementary School since the start of the school year .

Kells said the teacher misinterpreted Keeyan despite repeated reminders about it. Kells says it’s more than an accident now, calling it “constant discrimination”, especially because of Keeyan’s appearance.

“If you saw her, you wouldn’t know anything different…she looks like a binary girl, acts like one, talks like one, so it’s hard to see her or think of her as anything,” Kells told CBC. Hamilton.

The issue of miscarriage is important because transgender people have higher rates of suicide and mental health issues than others, research shows. A recent study led by the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto suggests that these concerns are linked to the discrimination they face.

Kells said Keeyan’s old name popped up on the screen during virtual schooling and the teacher was not quick to help.

Using a trans person’s old name is also called deadnaming and, like the wrong gender, can be harmful.

Kells said they tried to meet with the teacher before the start of the school year to avoid any problems, but the teacher refused. Kells also said the school’s principal and superintendent were unsupportive and did not take their concerns seriously.

“There are thousands of LGBTQIA+ children in our city (outside AND not outside) who don’t have the love and support of my child and the severe harm that any of these children could suffer at the hands of these women is too much for me I will fight hard,” reads the email containing their official complaint to the Hamliton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB).

Alex, an 8th grade student at Dr. JE Davey Elementary School in Hamilton, said their teachers constantly abused them and used their old name, but they seemed to go unpunished. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Council spokeswoman Marnie Jadon said the HWCDSB takes the concerns “very seriously”.

“We are fully committed to the dignity of each individual and to ensuring that they feel welcomed and accepted in our schools. The concerns have been brought to the attention of our senior management and will be thoroughly investigated. .”

Kells said they are in contact with the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and plan to file formal complaints.

The number of trans students is not tracked

Alex, an 8th grade student at Dr. JE Davey Elementary School, told CBC Hamilton earlier this year that teachers consistently call them the wrong gender and use their old name. They added that unlike the students, who would have been suspended, none of the teachers appeared to face any consequences.

“It made me not like school and not want to go,” said Alex, who is only identified by his first name due to his age and security concerns.

Two months after Alex went public with these issues, they said there have been marginal improvements, but they still feel the admins aren’t doing enough. Apart from issues with staff, Alex added, they face questions from students about their identities every time they use the washroom.

Alex added that they weren’t surprised to hear other trans students like Keeyan say they were having similar issues.

When Alex spoke, the public school board told CBC that staff adhere to its policies on school safety, equity and human rights. The council also has a Safe Schools Action Planwhich includes a goal of having 80 percent of students in equity-seeking groups reporting that they feel safe and supported in school.

Caspian Richard, a Grade 9 transgender student at Bernie Custis High School, was previously dubbed because of the public school board’s virtual learning system. The school board finally fixed the problem.

Richard said they haven’t been bullied much this year, but other trans students have.

“I feel like I’m teachers…we have to respect them, but I feel like they don’t show us the same kind of respect,” they said. “I think there should be more effort to support trans kids and all kids [who are] LGBTQ.”

It’s unclear how widespread transphobia is in Hamilton schools, in part because Hamilton’s public and Catholic school boards don’t track the number of transgender students enrolled.

Alex, their mother Tanya O’Connell and Kells say they were disappointed to hear this, but not surprised.

“However, we expect the release of student census data later this spring. This data will provide insight into some of the students who participated in the census and identified as transgender,” said Hamilton spokesperson Shawn McKillop. -Wentworth. District school board.

Jadon of the Catholic Board said the HWCDSB is preparing demographic surveys for students and staff “in our ongoing commitment to active listening, prayer and right action.”

“We hope the voluntary census surveys will provide important insights into the development of thoughtful, data-driven decisions and supports,” she wrote.

“This endeavor is grounded in our efforts to respect differences, provide care and support to all students and staff, and is informed by our Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person. The centrality of Jesus Christ provides the framework – not just for the census survey, but the resulting response/action.”

More representation, training needed

Fae Johnstone, executive director of Wisdom2Action, an LGBTQ+ consultancy, once told CBC that school boards need implementation plans that include dedicated financial resources for inclusion, and clear expectations communicated to staff and educators that homophobia and transphobia will not be tolerated.

Kells said parents should also have more resources.

Richard said there should be more LGBTQ+ representation in schools and more LGBTQ+ resources for students.

WATCH | According to an LGBTQ consultant, school boards need action plans:

LGBTQ consultant says school boards need action plans to tackle transphobia

Fae Johnstone, executive director of Wisdom2Action, an LGBTQ+ consulting firm, said transgender students are still big targets for bullying in schools. 1:15

Alex advocates for gender-neutral toilets and more school-wide education, including at assemblies or workshops.

O’Connell’s list of recommendations includes:

  • School-wide education about being transgender.
  • Participate in days like Day of Pink and Trans Day of Remembrance.
  • Provide access to a Gay Straight Alliance or similar groups.

For its part, the HWDSB said it has gender-neutral restrooms, works to improve staff diversity, observes LGBTQ days during the school year, and hosts positive space groups.

Reflecting on their own situation, Kells hopes the schools will step up.

“I’m flabbergasted at how difficult this whole situation ended up being and I’m very concerned for other parents and other students.”