Ottawa School Board Told “We Cannot Hesitate” On Support For Transgender Students

A former student of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, Fae Johnstone spoke to the public and trustees during a recent board meeting, urging continued support for transgender students.

Fae Johnstone

On April 4, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board held their Committee of the Whole, where delegates urged the Board to advance their commitment to 2SLGBTQIA+ and gender-diverse students. Fae Johnstone, executive director for consulting firm Wisdom2Action, which uses some of its profits for 2SLGBTQIA+ advocacy, addressed the board.

Hello. My name is Fae Johnstone. I am a trans woman, an advocate for women, queer and trans peoples’ rights, and a former OCDSB student. Though I am joining today as a private citizen, In my work, I lead a consulting firm specializing in gender and sexual diversity. I am also a member of the board of directors of YWCA Canada – Canada’s oldest and largest feminist organization.

I did not want to come here tonight to rehash debates we settled in the early 2010s. But amidst rising hate, defending the progress we’ve made - and calling for further leadership on queer issues - isn’t optional. The mental health, well-being, safety and basic dignity of trans and queer students is at stake. 

In 2021, we saw a 64% increase in hate-motivated violence targeting queer communities. Efforts are underway across the country to roll back inclusive policies and supports for trans and queer youth. 

Despite what anti-trans stakeholders allege, our schools are still not safe. Evidence from Egale Canada – Canada's queer human rights organization – proves all too well what our young folks already know and experience: queer and trans youth are still not safe in our classrooms. 

I am proud, as a former student, to describe the OCDSB as a role model for inclusion when I connect with educators and boards across Canada. From the Rainbow Youth Forum, to the trans inclusion coordinators, to supports for GSAs, the OCDSB has proven its leadership. 

Now, I want to refute some misinformation that is being wielded against trans and gender-diverse youth in our schools. 

The idea that trans rights and women’s rights are in conflict, or that trans inclusion puts cis girls at increased risk of harm, is an argument based in misinformation and anti-trans hate, rejected by both the Canadian Bar Association and all credible feminist and women’s organizations.

The idea that it is dangerous for schools to protect the privacy of trans and gender-diverse students by not disclosing a student’s trans identity to their parents is false and harmful. Privacy protections for trans and queer youth are essential to keeping these kids safe. No credible children’s rights organization in Canada would endorse this practice. 

Finally, I want to highlight that in times of adversity, when 2SLGBTQIA+ rights are under attack and misinformation proliferates, we cannot hesitate or rest on our laurels. Now is the time to accelerate efforts at inclusion. Despite past progress, we cannot pretend queer and trans students don’t continue to face discrimination, homophobia and transphobia in our classrooms. 

Moving forward, I encourage the board to do more for queer and trans students. Accelerate training for educators. Increase supports for trans and queer students. Be a shining example of queer and trans inclusion. Our students deserve no less. Lives are at stake. 

Thank you.

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