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Muslim group against daughters sharing washrooms

School district devising a policy on sexual orientation and gender identity
Despite no top-down acknowledgement, as yet, from Richmond's board of education of gender identification rights, teachers and students have moved forward in efforts to be inclusive. Richmond High has 'safe place' notices on classrooms.

A group of Muslim parents is calling on the Board of Education to ensure no transgender or gender non-conforming students end up in the same washrooms as their hijab-wearing daughters.

Khalid Fatih spoke on behalf of a group of parents calling itself Muslim Parents of Richmond at Monday night’s board meeting.

“For some of our daughters and women in our Muslim community, wearing a hijab is the core culture and a strict religious practice. Our daughters have been observing this for modesty and privacy, and they do not feel safe changing their clothes in the presence of biological males, since they remove their hijab only in the presence of other females,” stated Fatih in his petition to the board.

Fatih argued such a right is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

“We demand segregated washrooms, change rooms and field trip accommodation for biological males and females use be clearly written in details in the Code of Conduct and strictly implemented to ensure safety for all school students. Our daughters must not only be safe but feel physically, emotionally, and morally safe when they use washrooms, change rooms and field trip accommodation,” stated Fatih.

While the school district’s Code of Conduct is presently being updated to include mention of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), chair Debbie Tablotney understood Fatih to be speaking more specifically to a separate SOGI policy, to be drafted this fall, to raise understanding of the issue.

She noted the policy does not promote any particular identity but serves to inform teachers, staff, students and parents about the special circumstances of different identities.

“The ultimate goal is to help our students who identify in different ways to feel safe,” said Tablotney.

Chair Debbie Tablotney

She said the board received the Muslim group’s demands as feedback and told Fatih that anyone can share more thoughts with the policy committee.

“Myself, I’m always willing to listen to concerns. That creates good policy when you incorporate thoughts and concerns of all parties. And in bringing their concerns forward they might learn things that maybe they didn’t know,” said Tablotney.

She said the district is carefully considering how to ensure there are washrooms that are safe for anyone who may not feel comfortable in typical boys or girls ones.

Any new school, said Tablotney, will likely feature separate or single-stall facilities. Meanwhile, staff will have to make do in older schools on a case-by-case basis considering it would be too expensive to upgrade washrooms in every one of them.

“Anyone uncomfortable can be supplied with a single-stall washroom, where they would feel safe. It’s being done already to find a safe space to change,” said Tablotney.

The board’s implementation of a SOGI policy is actually well behind the vast majority of other B.C. districts.

Last February, a group of parents called Parents Care told the board it opposed the policy. Parents claimed the policy is unfair to other minority groups and that homosexuality is a choice.

Trustees Jonathan Ho and Alice Wong voted against forming a SOGI policy while the Richmond District Parents Association supports it.