Alberta tells Catholic school trustees to 'sort themselves out' over LGBTQ issue

EDMONTON -- Alberta's Education Minister David Eggen says Edmonton Catholic School Board trustees need to "sort themselves out" when it comes to their conflicting actions on drafting a plan to help LGBTQ students.

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"We're trying to have policy across the province line up with the letter of the law, and so that's the responsibility of the trustees and the boards," Eggen said Monday outside Government House.

"The vast majority of Albertans want equality and justice for all students, including those with different gender identities.

"They (the trustees) need to sort themselves out and make sure they are doing the job that they are elected and paid to do."

The Edmonton Catholic board is one of 61 boards across Alberta charged by the province with drafting a policy to make schools safe and welcoming to LGBTQ students, as mandated under Alberta's School Act.

The boards must submit draft policies to the province for review by March 31.

To assist the boards, Eggen's department dispatched last week 12 guidelines for the policies.

The guidelines specify that transgender students be allowed to use their washroom of choice depending on their sex or on whether they perceive themselves to be a girl or a boy.

It also states students be allowed to dress based on the same principle and play on sports teams they feel align with their sexuality.

The students should be addressed by the name and pronoun that makes them comfortable, and can say how they want to be named and be recognized in official school records.

Eggen has said he expects the boards' submissions will reflect the spirit, if not the letter, of the guidelines.

The guidelines provoked a furious response from Calgary Bishop Fred Henry.

Henry, in an open letter to parishioners, labelled the guidelines and the overall policy plan "totalitarian" and contrary to church teachings.

"In (God's) plan, men and women should respect and accept their sexual identity," wrote Henry.

Last Friday, Edmonton Catholic school trustees forwarded Henry's letter to all parents in its district.

It was not a unanimous move. Board trustee Patricia Grell, in a blog post, said she opposed the decision and apologized to those offended by Henry's letter.

"I was unsuccessful in convincing them that it would not bode well for our district and the future of Catholic education if we allowed ourselves to participate in disseminating his uniformed views and comments," wrote Grell.

Marilyn Bergstra, the chair of the Edmonton Catholic board, was to speak to the issue later Monday.

It was the actions of the Edmonton Catholic board that launched the policy process in the first place.

Last fall, the district struggled with a seven-year-old student who self-identified as a girl and wanted to use the girls washroom.

The student balked at the school's suggestion to use a gender-neutral washroom and her family filed a human rights complaint.

Board members held emotional meetings as they tried to craft a larger policy on LGBTQ rights.

One trustee told the media he believed transgender students "have a mental disorder."


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