Washroom Wars: The Difficulty of Gender Diversity in Catholic Schools

Year: 2018

Author: Callaghan, Tonya

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In January, 2016, following a lengthy debate in the Canadian province of Alberta over bathroom use by transgender students, colloquially referred to as the “washroom wars” (Sinnema, 2016), the Alberta Government issued a document entitled Guidelines for Best Practices: Creating Learning Environments that Respect Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities, and Gender Expressions (hereafter referred to as the Guidelines). The Guidelines emphasize the legal requirements for schools in creating an inclusive environment and outline specific practices for school authorities to follow (Government of Alberta, 2016). This research investigates reactions to the implementation of these guidelines through the case study of a viral transphobic rap video published to Youtube by a “concerned Alberta mother” (Weibe, 2016). This case demonstrates that, where supportive legislation exists, parental and community support is critical for creating inclusive Catholic schools.
Gender and sexually diverse and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, (LGBTQ) are used in this study to denote individuals who do not identify or conform with heteronormative frameworks as they relate to gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, and which are included under the Guidelines as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans3, two-spirit, queer, questioning, and/or gender-diverse” (2016, p. 2).
This research adopts the framework of critical pedagogy and anti-oppression education (Brown & Strega, 2005; Giroux, 2001), which explores how oppressive structures, such as heterosexism, operate in schools in order to propose methods to address them. Prior studies have focused on the marginalized experiences of non-heterosexual individuals (primarily students) in public schools (Meyer & Stader, 2009). Because this research examines LGBTQ marginalization within the Catholic school system, where attempts to introduce anti-homophobia education have been met with resistance (Bayly, 2007), its findings are distinct from research into secular institutions.
This research situates the public response to the Guidelines in the context of the established clash between religious edicts in publicly funded Catholic schools and secular state laws, which have resulted in subtle and blatant forms of exclusion for gender and sexually diverse students and staff (Author, 2016 & 2017; Young & Ryan, 2014). With previous components of this study indicating that public support is essential to the creation of inclusive and positive learning environments for gender and sexually diverse students and staff in publicly funded Catholic schools (Author, 2017), public reaction to Alberta’s Guidelines offers a critical opportunity to understand Catholic education leaders’ resistance to the implementation of LGBTQ inclusive practices in Catholic schools.