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Richmond's top doc backs sexual orientation/gender identity policy at schools

Health officer one of many stakeholders: Trustee Wong
Meena Dawar
Richmond’s new medical health officer, Dr. Meena Dawar, cited several theories as to why the city’s health may be suffering, including the reliance on personal vehicles, as opposed to using public transit. Photo by Graeme Wood/Richmond News

Richmond’s Medical Health Officer, Dr. Meena Dawar, has told the Board of Education she fully supports development of a separate school district policy for students with minority sexual orientation and gender identity.

While the board is one of the last in B.C. to implement such a policy for its own district, the issue has become controversial, with a significant group of parents opposing the plan.

Despite some opposition, including from two trustees, Jonathan Ho and Alice Wong, Dawar, who doubles as the district’s School Medical Officer, stated in a letter to the board, dated March 8, that she agrees a sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policy is necessary.

Wrote Dawar: “The literature has clearly highlighted the health and safety issues faced by gender diverse students; these issues are not intrinsic to their gender identity but a result of the unfriendly and non-accepting environment in which they are forced to function. ‘Everyday’ victimization in the form of mean rumours, bullying, and harassment contribute to classrooms, hallways, and change rooms becoming unsafe spaces. All of this can create high levels of anxiety and depression which unfortunately culminates to a range of health harms such as substance use, higher rates of suicide attempts and completed suicides.”

Ho did not respond to the Richmond News by deadline, while Wong said — despite having not read the letter — she felt it necessary to discern between whether this was the doctor’s personal opinion or the opinion of Vancouver Coastal Health.

“I’m not sure she represents [Vancouver Coastal Health] or if it’s her opinion,” said Wong.

Wong has maintained that the board needs to listen to all “stakeholders” on the matter, including Parents Care group, which opposes the policy.

When asked for her opinion on the matter, Wong again deferred to stakeholder consultation.

“I have to listen to all opinions and feelings. That’s how we make the decision,” said Wong, adding Dawar would be one of many stakeholders.

Dawar told the News that the letter represented her “professional recommendation as a medical health officer under the Public Health Act.”

Nevertheless, Dawar also wrote (in the letter to trustees) that “VCH is prepared to work with the Board and District to explore and offer support for this policy.”

Dawar’s letter went on to state: “Gender diverse students are among the most vulnerable students in our schools and come from families of diverse ethnicity and socio demographic status. It is important to reflect on their unique needs in order to create clear and specific policy supports that cannot be fit into an existing general policy for all.

“Potential benefits of this journey are far-reaching; the literature also indicates that inclusive school environments (such as sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policies and Gender Sexuality Alliances) have a protective effect on LGBTQ youth and co-incidentally also improve health and mental health outcomes for all students, including heterosexual students.”

The board is expected to draft a policy with public feedback come next school year.