Hundreds gather at school board meeting, parents speak out about policies for transgender students

A crowd lingered outside the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB)  meeting after public delegations were finished Tuesday, chanting
A crowd lingered outside the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) meeting after public delegations were finished Tuesday, chanting

A crowd of about 300 people — some wrapped in rainbow flags and others carrying Bibles — lined up in the parking lot of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board's headquarters on Tuesday.

They came to watch six public delegations debate transgender students using school washrooms following a disruption at a previous meeting.and despite the matter not being on the agenda for that evening.

"Trans people are not scary. They are people," said a tearful Natasha Bridgen, who has a transgender child, as she lined up.

"We're here to make sure … that my child and my child's friends can go to school and feel safe, and not threatened and not face violence and bullying, and can pee … in any bathroom they want to pee."

According to the board's website, "All students have the right to use the washrooms, and other facilities, that they feel most comfortable with. This includes 'boys', 'girls', and all-inclusive facilities."

It and other local boards facing similar criticism have pointed to the Ontario Human Rights commission and code to back up these rights.

As some people chanted "trans rights are human rights," and others yelled "may God bless you," the crowd slowly inched toward the door of the building, but many were left outside.

Only 75 people were admitted, as per new safety measures announced by the school board on Monday.

Ahead of Tuesday's meeting, four police cars were already parked outside the building. A statement issued by the English public board explained that officers were on-site to "monitor the situation and provide assistance as required," and public visitors would have to sign in to attend meetings.

Avanthika Anand/CBC
Avanthika Anand/CBC

This all comes comes after the last board meeting on March 7.

Nick Morabito, a parent of four children, spoke then about concerns for his 12-year-old daughter's safety while sharing a washroom with someone who is transgender.

Only a minute into his speech, school board trustee Nili Kaplan-Myrth cut him off.

"On the grounds that this creates an unsafe environment for people who identify as gender diverse, I'm going to have to ask you to end your delegation," she said.

That's when a small group of attendees began disrupting the meeting, prompting the board to call police.

At Tuesday's meeting, Morabito was permitted to speak again.

He insisted he did not come from a place of "hostility, bigotry, transphobia" and that his daughter and other students feel unsafe and their personal space is violated by the school board's inclusive washroom policy.

Shannon Boschy, a candidate for school board trustee last fall, demanded an apology for "silencing" Morabito.

Boschy has previously compared non-binary genders to a disorder, blamed Ontario's sex-education curriculum for the rise in transgender and non-binary identifying students and got about six times fewer votes in his zone than winning trustee Lyra Evans, who is transgender.

Avanthika Anand/CBC
Avanthika Anand/CBC

The other four delegations at Tuesday's meeting refuted those arguments.

Andy Boschy, who is Shannon's transgender son, said "We are called groomers, predators, and violent. We are accused of mutilating children and endangering women. All of this simply for existing and living our lives as anyone else would.

"We must make sure the safety and dignity of students is protected."

His speech was met with resounding applause from most attendees at the meeting.

Avanthika Anand/CBC
Avanthika Anand/CBC

Frances McRae said she was there as a parent of two non-binary children.

She presented data from a number of sources to make the point that transgender youth often suffer disproportionately from bullying due to discrimination and fear for their safety.

"We really need to, as adults, make the decisions around policies and programming and inclusion that is based on actual facts and evidence about who is experiencing the fear," she said in an interview.

"There's actually no evidence of trans people or 2SLGBTQIA+ people being predatory," she added.

"We forget that these policies are about kids and trans kids. They're terrified," said Phoebe Qiao, who is transgender. "I know, because just two years ago I had to live under my parent's roof while closeted to them."

Avanthika Anand/CBC
Avanthika Anand/CBC

After the public delegation ended, Qiao told CBC News in an interview that she felt the night had been a success.

"Allies and trans people and queer people in general showed up in droves in solidarity," she said.

"It's a show of power for our community that we're not going to let these kinds of things stand."

Outside, the crowd continued chanting as police watched.