Canadian Schools Become Truly Inclusive with Gender-Neutral Policies
The Vancouver School Board (VSB) in Canada has extended its policy that says that a student should be able to enjoy a safe learning environment no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. Now, some students can opt to be known by gender-neutral pronouns, as opposed to the traditional “he” or “she”.
“We are standing up for kids and making our schools safer and more inclusive,” said board member Mike Lombardi.
As part of the policy, three words have been introduced into the schools that pupils can choose to be recognised as. “Xe” (pronounced “zee”), “xem” (“zem”) and “xyr” (“zare”) can be used as gender non-specific alternatives to “he/she”, “him/her”, and “his/hers”.
Way back in the late 1700s, William H Marshall made reference to the gender-neutral pronoun “ou”, which itself stemmed from “a”, used by a couple of writers in the 14th century. “A” was a reduced form of the Anglo-Saxon words “he” and “heo” (“he” and “she”), but had been adapted for use in place of “I” and “they”, as well as “he”, “she” and “it”.
Fast-forward to the 1970s… While several people apparently independently invented the word “xe” as a gender-neutral, third-person pronoun in place of “he” or “she”, Don Rickter is the person credited with its invention in 1971.
Typically, agender (identifying as neither gender) and gender-fluid (identifying as both male and female) people prefer to be called “they”. However, using “they” can often cause confusion due to its usage as a plural word. Avoiding this confusion is one of the aims of introducing specific, gender-neutral words.
Despite the English language having provisions for gender non-specific pronouns for hundreds of years, the implementation of “xe, xem and xyr” has sparked a huge debate with some people who don’t deem them necessary or appropriate.
This came as a surprise to VSB Chairperson Patti Bacchus, who said that the revised policy was being put into place so that staff and students alike would know how to support a student who is transgender or unsure of their gender identity.
“I didn’t expect it at all to be controversial,” she said, explaining that the board had only done what it had already been doing for years – ensuring that their policies were clear and consistent, focusing on the safety and happiness of their students.
Some other changes to be implemented include allowing students to use whichever toilet facilities they feel comfortable using. This also includes unisex facilities which will become a mandatory option in Vancouver schools and will resemble the genderless, single-stall bathrooms required for disabled students.
“What I hope [the revised policy] does is give a much clearer message to everyone,” Bacchus said. “Families who are fearful of what their child may face can have some confidence that the board is very clear about our commitment to including and supporting and welcoming every single student and giving them what they need to thrive.”
No matter what any school claims about being inclusive for all students, Vancouver has taken the steps to prove that its schools truly are.