The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has dismissed a petition by the parents of an Ottawa Grade 1 student that unscheduled lessons on gender identity violated the girl’s human rights.
A human rights lawyer says parents’ concerns about the program should not trump protecting and supporting LGBTQ children in the classroom, especially those who may have different identities than those of their classmates.
The ruling, released in late August, cleared the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) of any violation of the Human Rights Code.
This is the latest a series of questions surrounding gender identity in the classroom which are now making their way through various tribunals and courts.
Arbitrator Eva Nichols, who presided over the case, took the exceptional step of stating in her decision that not only did impromptu lessons on gender identity violate any student’s human rights, but that systemic changes demanded by parents — including that “the school board be instructed to avoid the issue of gender fluidity” — amounted to asking the board to ignore Ontario’s human rights laws regarding gender identity and expression.
“We are extremely disappointed with the result,” Pamela Buffone, the girl’s mother, said in a statement. “Our daughter continues to recall that the lessons were very upsetting.”
The court ruling repeatedly noted that neither Buffone nor her husband were able to explain how they came to the conclusion that their daughter was upset by the lessons.
In response to follow-up questions from CBC, Buffone said when her daughter shared what happened, she was “visibly upset.”
“She wasn’t crying,” Buffone said, “but she was clearly struggling with everything that was taught in class.”
This decision explains why simply having this as part of a program is not a violation of someone’s human rights.– Shakir Rahim, human rights lawyer
During the hearing, Buffone described discussing gender identity in school as “cultural colonization” and a method of “reprogramming a child’s identity.”
In their application, the Buffones asked for financial compensation and a court directive that teachers must notify parents when a lesson on gender identity will take place.
They also wanted the OCDSB to ensure that “classroom instruction does not in any way devalue, deny, or undermine female gender and/or gender identity,” and that the school board change its approach to teach all things gender, including avoiding gender fluidity altogether. .
Buffone moved her two children to another school board the following year because she “lost faith in the OCDSB.”
In a statement, the OCDSB said the decision “affirms the importance of fostering learning environments for students of all ages that are inclusive and representative of all gender identities.”
“The District remains committed to helping students, families, and staff navigate with dignity the many difficult conversations that can arise in the promotion and protection of identity, human rights, and lifelong learning. students,” the school board added.
“Everyone is welcome at the OCDSB.”
Make sure children are supported
A human rights lawyer explained that a particular topic discussed in class is not enough for the court to intervene and that the facts of the case do not constitute discrimination.
“I think this decision explains why just having this on a program is not a violation of someone’s human rights,” said Shakir Rahim, who specializes in LGBTQ issues. .
He stressed the importance of supporting people whose gender identity may be different from the majority of their peers, such as transgender children.
“It’s certainly as much about children and the protection and safety of those children in the classroom as it is about parents and their concerns,” he said.
Lisa Bildy, the lawyer who represented the Buffones, said in a statement that the decision was the result of “an irreconcilable clash of worldviews in our society at this time.”
“Respecting the inherent human dignity of people of diverse gender identities, through inclusion and acceptance, is a very different goal than instilling in all children the belief that their gender is fictional or that they should have a gender identity,” she added.
‘Teaching moment’ after classroom bullying
The Buffones’ claim was filed in March 2019, but the events in question occurred in January 2018.
According to the Grade 1 teacher’s testimony, the students had been ordered by a former teacher to leave a bottle of hand sanitizer on their desks when they went to the bathroom. There were two such bottles, each with a sticker on it: one with the outline of a boy and the other a girl, as often depicted on public restroom doors.
The teacher noted that a student was teased by other students after using the “wrong” bottle.
After removing the stickers, the teacher told the class that “a person can be one-sided physically, but can be different in heart,” according to the court ruling.
The teacher, who was not named to avoid the possibility of the student and the school being identified, used classroom resources reserved for so-called “teachable moments”.
These included the book my princess boy by Cheryl Kilodavis, which discusses gender expression, and a video titled “He, She and They”, which discusses gender pronouns. During a class discussion, a student said that people can see a doctor to change their body. The teacher confirmed that it was possible.
At one point, the teacher told the students that “there are no boys and girls”.
Buffone and her husband learned of these lessons about two months later when their daughter – then six years old – said at the breakfast table that there were no boys and girls and that she didn’t want to be a “mom” when she grew up and would rather have a dog instead.
Buffone requested a meeting with the teacher to share her concerns. Following this meeting, the teacher gave a follow-up lesson to clarify her remarks. She drew a gender spectrum on the board: a line with a boy at one end, a girl at the other, and several marks in between indicating other possible gender identities.
Sometime after that, the parents said they watched their daughter play teacher, teaching her teddy bears a similar lesson on the gender spectrum.
The Buffones’ application to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleged that the school board had “discriminated with respect to educational services, on the basis of sex and gender identity.”
Mother outspoken on gender issues
Buffone runs a website and Twitter account that criticizes education and legal issues about children’s gender identities, particularly policies that recognize transgender and gender diversity rights.
In her statement, she called the court’s decision “further evidence that a new political dogma is being thrust upon us all, including six-year-olds in our education system.”
“A girl can go to school knowing she’s a girl and go home not knowing who she is,” she said, “because schools meddle with children’s identities by completely ignoring biological reality as a relevant and important personal characteristic – now with the full support of the [Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario].”
The tribunal, for its part, wrote in its decision that “there was no allegation in the application that the school board’s policy contravenes the [Human Rights Code].”