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  • Four years ago the Executive Director of a large community service agency asked me what our recommendations on the issue of transgender and gender dysphoria. This service organization had recently had boys asking to register for their all girl’s programs.  At the time, I did not have a well formulated, or well-researched response. I suggested they consult with a lawyer …  a safe answer as I didn’t have the answers to give. 

    At the same time a four year old preschooler, Charlie Lowthian-Rickert, from Eastern Ontario, went to pre-school dressed as a girl, wearing nail polish and pink and purple clothes. He told teachers, “I’m a girl.” 

    It wasn’t well-accepted. “They ostracized her,” Charlie’s mom said of school administrators.

    “They made her eat lunch alone. Even in line-ups in a hallway, she had to line up on the other side.”

    And then there was the bullying by other kids. “They hurt me physically and verbally,” says Charlie, now 9. “They’d give me noogies, they’d punch me; they’d bite me. They called me names. They started calling me ‘girlish boy.”‘

    Did the school administrators handle this correctly five years ago?

    Any educator would recognize that children that age often try on different roles, and some parents, teachers, and religious leaders try to talk the child out of it.

    Last summer, we received four phone calls from clients asking us how to handle a similar sensitive issue. In each scenario, there were children (as young as six) that were asking to use the bathroom of the opposite gender – indicating that is where they were more comfortable, due to their gender identity.  One of the clients, representing an overnight residential camp, had a fourteen-year-old camper who was in transition from being a girl to a boy.  The camper asked to sleep in the boy’s cabin.

    In 2016 this is not just a passing thing. For many children and adults, this is who they wish to be, and believe it is who they are. 

    As schools, camps, churches, community centers, what should our response be?  Are we prepared for situations like this?

    At Plan to Protect® our vision and mission is to create safe environments for the vulnerable sector.  Safety for all, not just the majority, or the one’s we feel comfortable with.

    Whether we agree or disagree, the government calls on us to ensure we are not discriminating or harassing an individual. More recently, ‘gender identity’ has been added to the list of human rights.

    From a protection perspective, my question is how do we create safe environments for everyone, including Charlie? 

    Mandating that Charlie uses the washroom of the gender of her birth is not safe for Charlie.  Is Charlie a danger to girls ... a danger to boys?  When you look into Charlie’s eyes and meet Charlie, you would be hard-pressed to believe that Charlie is a danger. 

    For our many clients that represent faith communities, we are often reminded that all individuals are made in the image of God!  We want our churches to be a place of welcome and grace!

    Over the course of the past year we have attended seminars, read books, consulted with lawyers, politicians and child development and child protection experts on this issue.  What I am convinced of is that all children need protection, including this four-year-old.  Children need to be valued and loved! Children need to be welcomed! All children need to feel safe.

    Beyond extending a welcome, we need to move outside of our comfort zones.

    From our learnings, we now feel confident that we can make the following suggestions on how to create safe environments, in order not to ostracize individuals:

    • Provide universal / barrier-free washrooms and change rooms.  (By the way, please don’t call them Handicap Washrooms). 
    • Deal with individuals on a case-by-case situation, as each story is unique, as is each individual.
    • Adhere to a zero tolerance policy for bullying and harassment.
    • Communicate options and solutions for parents and children alike so that everyone feels safe as the transition is made.
    • Meet the boys and girls like Charlie, listen to their stories and honour their request to use the pronoun that they ask you to use.
    • Educate your staff and volunteers as to a proper response.
    • Establish policies on gender identity and gender expression.
    • Keep personal information confidential, in locked, secure cabinets.
    • Respect people’s needs for privacy.
    • Continue to provide elevated supervision for areas of our buildings where the risk of abuse is high. With any organization that services the vulnerable sector, there will be individuals that take opportunities like this to have access to them.

    In closing, let’s Plan to Protect®!

    My concern is not whether Charlie is a safe 9-year-old.  I am deeply concerned about Charlie’s safety! I am deeply concerned about every child’s safety!

    In closing, four years ago, I was not educated on this issue.  Either was Charlie’s parents.  Without knowledge and education, we can be gripped with fear as society changes. Are your program personnel, Administrators, Teachers, leadership ready to manage this issue without harassing and discriminating, judgment and condemnation?  Will they bully Charlie?  Will you create an environment of welcome and grace? 

    For more training on the topic of Human Rights and Gender Identity/Expression see https://plantoprotect.schoolkeep.com/catalog

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