In a cultural moment marked by advances in representations of transgender people, several organizations are taking steps to become more welcoming toward transgender children.
In October, Girl Guides of Canada released new guidelines to be more inclusive of transgender members. The seven-page document made the organization’s previously ambiguous stance on the issue more straightforward, with the very first paragraph affirming that all “persons who live their lives as females are welcome to join.”
Prior to this development, the organization only allowed transgender girls to join on a case-by-case basis.
Marlo Jurkowski, the provincial commissioner for the Girl Guides of Canada Manitoba Council, says the new policy reflects the fundamental values of the organization.
“We’ve always been committed to inclusivity,” she says. “It made sense to (take) the next step of creating this resource.”
At the end of the day, Jurkowski says Girl Guides’ goal is to make sure all girls have the best experience possible.
“It’s really about empowering girls and women,” she says. “It’s a safe place to be yourself, to have fun (and) to make friends. It allows young girls... to really figure out who they are.”
While the new policy may indicate a shift in conversations on inclusivity, it also raises an important question: what else is being done to make spaces more inclusive of transgender children?
In the Winnipeg School Division (WSD), school trustee Lisa Naylor recently introduced a notice of motion for a new policy aimed specifically at protecting transgender and gender non-conforming students. If the motion is passed, WSD would be the first school division in the province to implement such a policy.
“I don’t think this policy is a big step away from what’s already being practiced,” Naylor says. “I just think it’s important to have policy so that things are reviewed and continue in the future. I’d like to see us as a school division be leaders in this area in Manitoba.”
While WSD already requires all its junior and senior high schools to have gender-neutral bathrooms, Naylor notes the importance of a comprehensive policy around safe and supportive schools for transgender students.
“It’s important to recognize when we’re looking at gender issues that we realize that this is more than just a bathroom issue,” she says. “This is about everything from school field trips to kids just feeling safe and supported in their classrooms and every aspect of their life.”
Local transgender advocate Shandi Strong applauds the increasing initiative organizations are taking to be more inclusive of transgender children.
“I think it really speaks to the quality and the calibre of the organization that they can be forward-thinking like that,” Strong says. “They’re training our kids and I think that is one of the best things we can do.”
Strong also notes it’s important for parents to support their children as they explore their gender identity.
“Adults have to learn that it doesn’t affect them,” she says. “Parents who are afraid really have to learn that it’s not about them. They don’t need to be afraid.”