Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Integrity and Community Responsibility...

I am the secretary of our local Ministerial Association (a position I am contemplating retiring from at the end of this year).  It is not an onerus task.  Mainly it consists of sending out agendas and meeting reminders, then taking minutes at the meeting and send those out (all sending done through a group e-mail). Other than that there is some times of being the recipient of requests to speak and taking those to the Executive for decision/invitation. The other piece is to be the central clearing house for items sent to the whole membership.

Normally the last piece is easy.  Something comes in with a request to distribute and I just hit "Forward" and send it on. Occasionally (or even often) the item is not something I would ever support personally but I am clear that it is not my role to screen items to match my social philosophy or theology. My role in this community is to be a conduit, not a gatekeeper or censor.

But recently that was a challenge for me.  I was asked to forward a link to this petition. And I had to stop and consult with the rest of the Executive (knowing that they would want it sent forward) before I could do what I knew it was my role in the community to do. Part of it is because I strenuously disagree with the petition's contents and consider the language ["Totalitarian"] unnecessarily inflammatory. Part of it is because I do not believe the background given accurately reflects the guidelines to which they are objecting. Part of it is that I question if a Ministerial Association should be seen as taking a position on the issue at all, given that by definition there is diversity in our ranks (arguably transmitting a link is not exactly taking a stand -- recipients are free to respond as they see fit). But the big one is that I think this petition asks the government to act in a way that goes against the principle of protecting minority rights and providing a safe school environment.

But let us take a step back.

Last year one of the largest School Boards in the province hit the news because of their difficulty in coming to a fair policy around transgender students. To the extent that some suggested the Education Minister needed to step in and run the district directly. AS a result of this the Education Minister issued a set of guidelines around that very issue, with the requirement that School Boards draft policy based on those guidelines and submit them to the ministry by the end of March for review to ensure the policies are in compliance. A news story about the guidelines is here. The full document (which I admit I have not read completely -- TL:DR) is here.  AND then the excrement hit the spinning blade.

Many places in Alberta are very socially conservative.  The province has already had to mandate that if students ask for a Gay-Straight Alliance then the school is required to provide assistance to have that GSA as a school-sponsored club meeting on campus because some districts refused to do so -- suggesting it could be an off-campus organization instead. SO to tell everyone that they had to abide by these guidelines was like waving a red flag. And to be fair, given that Alberta has a fully-funded Separate (mainly Roman Catholic) School System these guidelines do appear to conflict with many traditional religious teachings. Then again, the publicly-funded school system is not in business to support traditional religious teachings -- there is a question of how far it should go in challenging them.

And so a number of people in the province have found these guidelines (most of which are very common-sense-based when you read them--if you accept that gender is not a binary thing). to be an affront to religious sensitivities and an affront to family values, and an affront to parental rights [one interpretation of them suggested that schools should not tell parents if a child disclosed being transgender, mind you schools have had similar policies around orientation for years]. ANd of course there was the all too common fear mongering that implementing these guidelines around washroom and change-room use would create unsafe environments and male students would use this as a chance to invade the female spaces.

I fully support the guidelines. I watched the press conference when they were released and I did note that the Minister had a real hard time answering when asked what would happen if a board chose to ignore these guidelines. I suspect that the government (or at least some within it) actually wanted these to be regulations-which are much more enforceable- but felt it was more politically palatable to make them guidelines so boards could have some more flexibility. Personally I think at least some of them SHOULD be regulations. I think that actually helps boards who object--then they can say "well we don't want to do it but we have to" (similar to discussions that happened in other places when boards were told they could no longer have the Lord's Prayer led during the school day). Also if they were regulations then boards could go back to the government for cash to redo washroom spaces to make them more friendly to the modern reality.  My personal vision is that instead of a couple of multiple user washrooms based on gender you have a series of individual water closets (fully enclosed rooms with a toilet) along the hallway with a set of common sinks outside. Then the issue of washroom use and safety is automatically resolved. For the record this would be a safer environment for cisgendered students (some people feel very uncomfortable in a public washrooms in general, and school washrooms have a long history of being potential bullying sites) as well.

So I did send the e-mail along.  But I still don't feel good about it.

And to be honest I don't really understand the uproar. Do people seriously believe that these guidelines will make any difference in the life of most students? Do they think there will suddenly be a mass influx of people gaming the system by claiming to be trans-gendered? What is the threat we need to fight against?  I think the threat is to those who are "different" and so we protect them -- even [or especially?] if it means challenging those of us who have privilege because we are not different.

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