Transgender Manitoba student told she can't use girls' washroom
Published Friday, October 3, 2014 8:24AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, October 3, 2014 10:37PM EDT
The parents of a Winnipeg girl who was angrily told she isn't allowed to use the girls' washroom at school want a human rights investigation.
Eight-year-old Isabella Burgos was born a boy, but this year, the transgender student returned to school as a girl. Her parents say they thought the transition had gone smoothly.
"Everybody has been open and they've accepted everything and Isabella has been part of the community," Dale Burgos told CTV Winnipeg.
Since the school year started, Isabella was using the girls' washroom, and also had the option of using a gender-neutral washroom, until everything changed a few weeks ago.
Burgos says that’s when a mother of one of Isabella's classmates confronted her inside the school twice in one day.
"She approached my daughter and, right to her face, pointing in her face with her finger, said, "You're not allowed to use the girls' bathroom anymore," recounts Burgos.
Isabella says she was stunned.
"I think that was really mean and I didn't know if I should go in the office or not," she recalled.
The school has told Isabella she should now use the gender-neutral washroom. The River East Transcona School Division, which governs her school, says that approach follows the rules set out by the Manitoba human rights commission, which says that transgender students should use their schools’ gender-neutral washrooms.
The Burgoses disagree with the interpretation and have filed a complaint with the human rights commission. They hope it will result in new rules.
"We want the human rights code to be re-written," says Isabella's father.
The family says the harassment from the mother who confronted Isabella continued, and they have filed a complaint with police against her.
Montreal-based transgender rights advocate Frank Suerich-Gulick agrees. "That creates stigma. What it's saying is you're not a little girl, you're some 'other'," he said.
Meanwhile, letters of support pour in to Isabella, who hopes the school uses this as a teaching opportunity.
"I've asked my teacher if we could learn about transgender in my class so they all understand," she says.
The Manitoba Human Rights Commission will not comment on the family’s complaint. But they say that, under their guidelines, "flexibility with respect to washroom use policies may be necessary to ensure that persons who are transgender or transsexual have access to a washroom that is as safe and comfortable as that available to others."
There have been a number of similar incidents in recent years among transgender, school-aged children. Last year, a transgender Nova Scotia high school student was told she would be suspended for using the girls' washroom. When her family complained to the school board, the suspension was dropped.
And last year, the parents of a six-year-old in Colorado filed a civil rights complaint when their daughter was told she would have to start using the staff washroom, rather than the girls' washroom.
The Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled in the girl's favour several months later, deciding that the school district denied her equal treatment, as well as "full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations in a place of public accommodation due to (her) sex and sexual orientation."
With a report from CTV Winnipeg's Alesia Fieldberg