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  • Katherine Jameson Digby

A Five-Year Gender Journey for the OCDSB: Part One

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Parents Excluded from School Board Revision of Gender Identity and Expression Guide

By Katherine Jameson Digby

This is the first part of an investigative report by a concerned mother with children in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board


In 2012, the province of Ontario added the grounds “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the Human Rights Code. In 2014, the Ontario Human Rights Commission updated its Policy on discrimination and harassment because of gender identity. In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tabled Bill C-16, which amended the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include "gender identity or expression" as a prohibited ground of discrimination, and launched the Government of Canada’s LGBTQ2 agenda.

Also in 2016, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) posted a policy document to their web site entitled Gender Identity and Gender Expression – a guide for supporting students with “inclusive, safe and caring programs.” The OCDSB is the largest school board in Canada’s sixth largest city, and the nation's capital. It serves a widely multiethnic population that hails from all over the globe. In spite of the variety of religious and cultural beliefs held by the families who are served by the OCDSB, in 2016, the posting of Gender Identity and Gender Expression (GIGE 2016) drew little attention.

Many of the statements in GIGE 2016 read like common sense:

It is intended that this document will support staff, students and families in the OCDSB community in ensuring that the rights of those whose gender identity and gender expression do not conform to traditional social norms are protected, understood and accepted. (GIGE 2016 p 3)

This document is something of an outgrowth of the anti-bullying campaigns of the early 2000s, offering reasonable protections for students who might be a target for bullying due to gender nonconformity or sexual orientation.

In 2016, the public had every reason to expect that this was an issue that affected a tiny minority of students, whose requests could surely be accommodated. Who would argue with the document’s central assertion that all students deserve to feel safe and comfortable at school? The overall tone of the 2016 guide was one of accommodation.

During the next five years, Brexit, and the election of Trump, segregated the English-speaking world into two distinct political camps. The killing of George Floyd further entrenched the idea that society is divided between oppressed and oppressor, and that we must constantly be on the lookout for power differentials between them. Then came the pandemic, putting a halt to all in-person dialogue, as discussion retreated to Zoom and Twitter, two platforms tailor-made for polarization.

The 2020-21 school year was one of great social restriction for OCDSB families. The school year was interrupted on several occasions by full lockdowns, where classes reverted to online-only platforms and students were stuck at home. Even during the “in-person” intervals, students were kept in strict cohorts, with no extra-curricular activities or indoor mixing of any kind. Parents were forbidden from setting foot on the school grounds for any purposes, or from meeting in person, except outdoors and away from the school.

It was in this highly unusual context that the OCDSB decided that 2021 would be the year to revise the GIGE guide. New names appeared as authors, some with significant backgrounds as activists in the field of gender ideology. This updated document, now with the tagline, “Fostering inclusive learning environments for all students,” was made available online and announced to parents in a Board newsletter at the return to school in the fall. Whether this new document was ever presented, discussed and voted on by the Trustees, is a topic still under research and readers are invited to contact Gender Dissent if they can shed further light on this topic.

Throughout the 2021-22 school year, school councils and other meetings remained online only throughout the district, which greatly restricted parents’ ability to properly process and discuss the implications of this updated document. All the informal interaction that used to happen between parents was forbidden: no speaking to other parents during drop-off and pickup, no field trips or sports to accompany, and none of the mingling that would have ordinarily followed in-person school meetings. In the past, changes to school policy had always been subject to this informal filter of parent opinion, but during the pandemic, there was no way to express it.

The new 2021 GIGE guide kept all of the text of the 2016 document, and added a good deal more. For starters, it added a land acknowledgement. Since the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings in Canada in 2015, it has become common practice to begin meetings with an acknowledgement that the meeting is taking place on unceded and unsurrendered land. In this spirit, the new GIGE guide begins with a section entitled “Decolonizing Gender: Indigenous Perspectives,” which gives us such cryptic wisdom as “Separating by gender has a historical foundation of division from non-Indigenous perspectives” (p 6-7, GIGE 2021).

From this rather mystifying opening, we move on to the clarification of a number of topics that were only hinted at in 2016. Most notably, on page 5 we are informed that:

[W]e must move beyond merely accommodating the needs of trans, Two-Spirit and gender diverse students, families, and staff members. Together, we need to move towards fostering an environment across the District that respects and celebrates and welcomes diversity rather than cisnormativity. (GIGE 2021, emphasis mine)

Right at the outset, the 2021 guide contains an order that all members of the school community must respect, celebrate and welcome trans identities, rather than “cis” identities. Sounds rather revolutionary. So what was this to look like in the actual schools?

The 2021 guide adds language to clarify that there are to be no restrictions on who can identify their way into a new gender identity. New, bolded text on page 22 reads, “Every person has the right to define their own gender identity. A person’s self-identification is the sole measure for their gender” (p 21, GIGE 2021).

New language was introduced around the obligation of schools to keep secrets from parents. In 2016, under “Confidentiality”, we read, “School staff will ensure that consent is sought from the student and the student’s family prior to the sharing of information in order to fulfill an accommodation request” (p 5, GIGE 2016). In 2021, however, we read under the same heading of “Confidentiality” that “School staff shall not share a student’s trans or gender diverse status with family members or guardians without explicit permission of the student” (p 23, GIGE 2021). Crucially, the notion of confidentiality has shifted from keeping gender identity information within the family, to keeping information from the family. Bear in mind that this guidance is intended for kindergarten all the way to Grade 12.

The section entitled “School and Official Records” in the 2016 version includes the statement, “For changes to official school records, school staff will work collaboratively with the student and the parent/guardian as part of the process” (p 6, GIGE 2016). In 2021 this has been changed to “For changes to official school records, school staff will work collaboratively with the student and/or the parent/guardian/caregiver (if the student consents) as part of the process" (p 24, GIGE 2021, emphasis mine).

Now, students are to be allowed to change their official records without parent involvement, and a new character, known as the “caregiver”, as distinct from “guardian”, may or may not be part of the process, as per student wishes. An example of an individual who has voluntarily taken on the mantle of “caregiver” of other family’s transgender-identifying children is found on X/Twitter:

Parents who took the trouble to read the GIGE guidance of 2016 might have wondered how all this gender fluidity was going to affect bathroom use. The 2021 GIGE guide repeats the language of 2016 on this topic: “All students have a right to safe restroom facilities and the right to use a washroom that best corresponds to the student’s gender identity and gender expression, regardless of the student’s sex assigned at birth” (p 6, GIGE 2016). For anyone wondering if this gives males open access to the female washrooms, the 2021 version helpfully clears up any ambiguity:

[A] trans’s students gendered washroom use should not be monitored or questioned by school staff or peers. For example, a trans male student who feels safest or most comfortable using the girls washroom based on his gender expression, or relationship with peers should not be prevented from doing so. (GIGE 2021 p 25)

Altogether, the tone of the 2021 document changes from one of accommodating a small number of students with unusual requests, to instead marshalling the entire school community to disrupt gender norms at every opportunity. The change rooms and bathrooms become an important battleground for advancing the ideology.

Gender ideology may have seemed edgy, avant-garde, progressive, maybe even playful, from the perspective of 2021, when lockdowns kept everyone on Zoom all day, with our own private bathrooms next to the computer, and no phys-ed or sports to worry about. From that vantage point, what could be more outré than abolishing sex-segregated school bathrooms?

And then as we began to return to the in-real-life world in 2022, it became increasingly apparent that this doctrine was not going to be embraced with equal enthusiasm by all members of the school community. Alas, some groups had not been consulted on how “disrupting cisnormativity” might affect them. Female athletes were not asked whether they were prepared to relinquish their place on sports teams to larger, stronger males who identify as female. Female students with disabilities were not asked how they’d feel, struggling to change menstrual products in the presence of a group of male students, in the bathroom for a laugh, claiming to be there to “disrupt cisnormativity.” The district’s many, many Muslim families were not asked about their level of comfort with deliberately mixing male and female intimate spaces. And newcomers to Canada, some escaping the constant threat of sexual assault in refugee camps, were not asked how their daughters might feel having to change clothes for phys-ed in front of male students.

It is not clear how the OCDSB prepared itself to manage requests to engage on these tricky topics. Their web site lists a “Trans and Gender Diverse Student Support Coordinator” (see below), but the two incumbents who have occupied the position since 2021 have both vacated. Their supervisor, the Equity Instructional Coach, also left her position at the end of June 2023.

Now-deleted Tweet by @SaraSavoia, OCDSB Trans and Gender Diverse Student Support Coordinator, April 8, 2023

As of this writing in July 2023, very few groups apart from conservative, religious ones, have articulated opposition to gender ideology at the OCDSB. Many of them are so confused and exasperated, that they have declared that they want all sex education and all LGBT advocacy banished from schools entirely. Many have accused the Board of harbouring the darkest possible motivations for promoting gender ideology.

A recent opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen commended OCDSB teachers for keeping their student’s secret, at-school gender identities and expressions from their parents. The writer suggests it is a “great idea” that this school year, “the board is encouraging teachers and staff to consider using gender-neutral pronouns when they don’t know the gender of a student, instead of assuming based on looks or legal name.”

At the same time, protests at schools and school boards across the country will be striking up again as various provinces and politicians amend the policies that are injuring children and removing the rights of parents to guide their own family’s beliefs, values and health decisions. A national Million Person March, calling to all persons, “regardless of race, religion or political leaning,” is planned for September 20. Promoted as a peaceful protest and school-walk out, protestors “across the country will be raising a collective voice to send the essential message, ‘Leave Our Kids Alone’.”

It is entirely possible that the authors of the GIGE guide were coming at the issue from a position of good faith. They may have believed that they were advocating for a marginalized group and were putting student well-being at the centre of their decisions.

It is possible, however, to have the best of intentions to promote the rights of a marginalized group, and to inadvertently marginalize a whole other group.

Half of the OCDSB population is female. Their spaces and protections have been sacrificed to appease a tiny number of activists who claim that all males need access to all female spaces and must go unchallenged.

But as long as we’re intentionally mixing indigenous reconciliation and gender ideology, allow me to sign off by saying that female-only spaces, as yet, are still unceded and unsurrendered territory.

In Part Two: The OCDSB wunderkind who revolutionized our understanding of gender


Books and resources to help families resist gender identity ideology:

Our Duty Canada offers support and resources to Canadian parents of children experiencing “gender” ideation.

Transgender Trend calls for evidence-based healthcare for children and young people suffering gender dysphoria and for factual, science-based teaching in schools.

Genspect Parent Stories gives a voice to parents who are concerned that their kids are receiving inadequate healthcare.

Gender Dysphoria Support Network is an international group that aims to offer emotional understanding and support to families of individuals affected by gender dysphoria, by meeting regularly in small groups and by providing information, understanding and encouragement.

Parents with Inconvenient Truths about Trans (PITT) is a space for parents that have been impacted by gender ideology to share their uncensored stories, experiences, and thoughts.

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