Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Everybody poops

I sit on my kid's elementary school's parent council. We do a lot of good work raising funds to support kids, planning projects to support kids, supporting the staff and teachers who support kids. We plan some important things. We plan some fun things. We have some great successes. We have some failures too. We laugh. We think making the school a better place for kids is worth doing and we know that looks like a lot of different things. We try. We are not perfect.

Now, there is someone in the community saying we did not hear them when they asked us to "educate parents" about Bill 10 (the already passed Provincial Bill allowing for Gay-Straight alliances) and the newly proposed Provincial guidelines for best practice (which would create a province wide set of guidelines to help schools protect and respect students with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions). They are bad mouthing our school. This person felt we should be "sharing" this news, even though we have never shared such information before. This person said they were sent to us by the Alberta Association of School Councils but the association will not even call us back to explain why they would want small volunteer based school councils to interfere with provincial politics. This person seems to think that their right to provide 'feedback' is somehow being trampled upon, and that we are failing in our duties by not championing the conversation around these policies. This person came loaded with a lot of fear based interpretations about unsanctioned adults suddenly having access to small children and kids starting clubs on ANY issue in an attempt to disguise the real reason they opposed. But that's no reason to fail to advance the rights of Alberta's LGBTQ population and expand our collective sense of what diversity looks like. This issue is about advancing human rights and that's not open to the court of public opinion. If we raise a flag (even at the urgent request of someone else) on this issue we risk singling out the very people this legislation is in place to protect; if we raise this flag we risk risk hurting them.

When I lived in Victoria, I subbed and volunteered frequently at a school called George Jay. The school was built in 1909 and named after the man who fought so ferociously in FAVOR of segregated schools, and who succeeded in pushing 100s of Chinese (and a handful of First Nation) students out of his namesake school (and all Victoria schools) in 1922. In fact, the September he won his motion (after getting himself re-elected School board chair), he had principals gather and publicly march the Chinese children to a dilapidated old "school" and there they were left ...... (http://chinatown.library.uvic.ca/chinese_public_school and http://www.openschool.bc.ca/bambooshoots/teacher/gr10/resources/L3/Story%20Sheet_Victoria%20School%20Segregation.pdf) And he had the public's approval every step of the way ...... but that does not make it alright.

About 20 years ago, this almost forgotten ugly bit of history (just one of so many, many ugly bits) resurfaced and there was brief talk of renaming the school ............ I still think they should have removed this man's name from the building forever. But a brilliant piece of truth was gleaned from it all, and that is 'what we hide, we forget'. And we must never forget what this man did, or else we risk repeating it. (As a wonderful side note, George Jay school is a thriving inner city school which boasts more diversity than perhaps any other school in the city ....... and old George Jay would have hated that. So somehow, perhaps, it is very fitting that the name stay).

So, what now of Bill 10, the bill passed in March and allowing for Gay-Straight alliances? And what of these new guidelines about to be enacted provincially which will simply institutionalize a wider range of 'ways of being' and allow for a more respectful environment for kids and staff who have previously been marginalized or worse? Well, on a personal note I’d like you to know that gay-straight alliances were already always happening. But before now they often were happening under bleachers, and just off school grounds and there was smoking and talking and laughing and much angst. It was always a bunch of marginalized straight girls, and a bunch of gay or bi or questioning boys, and a few really butch lesbians who were just so fucking cool. And they were always groups where kids could find safety, and the straight girls' Dads never minded (because it’s virtually impossible to get pregnant hanging out with a gay boy at school). The thing is NOW, these kids can meet and gather AT school, and a teacher can pop in and see if they have questions or need help or support. And now that can all happen and the school won’t and, more importantly CAN’T tell that young questioning, 2 spirited, or gay person’s parents what they’re going through (but if they want a safe way to tell them, the school can find someone to help, and if their family rejects them completely, the school can find services to help). Before ……… sometimes those kids just killed themselves.
And as for those non gender specific washrooms? Those devil pits of rape and assault and immodest display and dirty tom peepery? What if we just asked, and expected, everyone to use a bathroom for what it’s for and nothing else? What if we stopped body shaming? What if we stopped equating nakedness with sex? What if we stopped equating the presence of our various bits of genitalia as predetermined sexual invitation? What if we stopped trying to shove everyone into defined little boxes and then being surprised when there’s more than 2 boxes? What if we just set the bar high for behaviour and respect and stopped trying to set a bar at all for identity? What if we just let kids find their way, safely, and with respect? What if? Honestly, please remember that you don't have to exactly understand or completely empathize with something to know it can't hurt you.

So we, here at your school council, would like you to know that this is happening. https://education.alberta.ca/media/1626737/91383-attachment-1-guidelines-final.pdf Right now. And it is, apparently, our "duty" to inform you of this, even though we have never, ever, never ever,informed you of a single other bill before. So there you go. But just so you know, Edmonton Public schools has boasted policy in line with ALL of these guidelines since 2012.
https://www.epsb.ca/ourdistrict/policy/h/hfa-ar/ and the sky has not fallen and the kids are ok. And I couldn't be prouder to send my kids to them. So there ya go. 

At the end of the day, everybody poops. Everybody needs to use the bathroom and the rules for considerate, respectful, and safe bathroom use HAVE NOT CHANGED. Don't let those, who hate, scare you or fill your mind with doubt. Bathrooms are for peeing, pooping, and maybe a little small talk ............. and in the end I don't care who saves me from walking out the door with TP on my shoe. I just hope that they do.

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