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He, she, they: NWSS tackles pronouns and misgendering

An estimated 80 students at the high school may be non-binary or trans. The SOGI team wants to make sure they feel included and safe.

New Westminster Secondary School is working to make sure students aren’t misgendered in class.

The school has introduced a new student information form as part of its SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) work.

Miriam Schellenberg, a vice-principal and the school’s SOGI lead, said the SOGI team heard “loud and clear” from students who were being misgendered by teachers and teachers-on-call.

Schellenberg, speaking to the New West school board at its May 10 education committee meeting, said the SOGI team decided to work with teachers on a simple way to fix the problem.

At the beginning of each semester, she said, most teachers already have a form for students to fill out asking for information about themselves. So the SOGI team developed an information form that asks students to fill in their self-identified name and pronouns, as well as which name and pronoun the teacher should use in communication with the student’s parents.

The information is stored so it’s available for both the classroom teacher and any substitute teachers who come in throughout the year.

“We’re finding this is not only helpful for our 2SLGBTQIA+ students, but any student whose name perhaps is different than is on the class list,” Schellenberg said.

Kai Smith, the district’s SOGI lead, told the board that a 2021 Ipsos poll showed 4% of youth identify as non-binary, transgender or not male or female — a percentage that would work out to about 80 students at NWSS.

Helping those students — and, more broadly, the estimated 560 NWSS students who identify as LGBTQ+ — to feel safe and included is at the heart of the work of the SOGI team.

Other SOGI projects this year have included:

  • working on a pilot project to convert two multi-stall washrooms at NWSS to non-gendered, universal access facilities
  • hosting a Parents Night Out information event on SOGI in schools
  • introducing the non-gendered pronoun “iel” in French immersion and core French classes
  • providing new resources and reading material for students and staff on gender and sexuality-related topics

Trustee Maya Russell commended the SOGI team for their work to keep students safe.

“As a parent, we often think about just how high-risk these kids are,” she said. “These kids are the most vulnerable, statistically, among the most vulnerable in our schools from a safety and security point of view, so these supports just mean the world.”

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie, jmaclellan@newwestrecord.ca.