Alberta Court: School Violated Transgender Student’s Privacy Rights

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

A transgender student in Canada has won a landmark ruling after the Alberta privacy commissioner concluded that her rights were, in fact, violated when teachers at her school repeatedly “outed” her.

In 2013, 13-year-old transgender girl Ella Grant moved to a new school in Edmonton to avoid the bullying that she had experienced at her old school. Her mother, Carla, asked school administrators to keep Ella’s birth name, and the fact that she was assigned male at birth, a secret. Despite this, her old name (or “dead name”) appeared on seating charts, was called out during attendance, and once was even projected onto a screen in front of dozens of other students. One supply teacher discussed loudly and in front of other students the process of getting her name changed, reports Laurel Gregory of Global News.

Ella, now a high school junior, said:

“It was a little disheartening. It wasn’t only the first time being outed at that school, it was the first time ever.”

When Ella began suffering from anxiety and skipping school, the mother-daughter pair filed a complaint with the Office of Information and the Privacy Commissioner of Alberta.

The school argued that they were honest mistakes, but the commissioner has ruled in Ella’s favor, saying that the school did, in fact, breach her privacy rights.

Ella says:

“It really does put a smile on my face to think no one else in Alberta is going to have to do this again.”

Since the ruling, the school board has revamped its policies to make sure that transgender students aren’t violated in the same way in the future. However, the ruling won’t affect other school boards because education is regulated by province and not federally. The board also now requires all district schools to have a “safe” staff member to whom students can come to discuss gender identity issues.

In Alberta and in many other places, the law requires students to legally change their names and their birth certificates before they will take dead names off of provincial education records.

Ella and her mother are happy about the ruling, but worry about whether it will be successfully implemented across the 60 other school districts and private schools. They also worry about trans children who have unsupportive parents, or who can’t afford a new birth certificate, reports Janet French of the Edmonton Sun.

This will set an important precedent for how school boards deal with protecting the identity of transgender students, reports Rachel Browne of Vice News.

Kristopher Wells, director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, said that this was a real victory for Alberta’s transgender students.

It clearly supports students’ rights to confidentiality, right to have their school records changed and maintained in a secure and private fashion, so no student is ever outed again in any Alberta classroom.

In another transgender-related story from Alberta, a seven-year-old transgender girl was prevented from using the girls’ restroom at the Edmonton Catholic school she attended.

In January, Alberta’s education minister released new guidelines dealing with queer students and teachers to reaffirm that all students should have the right to be identified by their chosen pronouns, to choose which bathroom they use in the school, and to wear clothing that reflects their gender identity.

Federally, Justin Trudeau’s government has announced the intention to create gender-neutral identity documents such as passports. This was a top priority during consultations with transgender Canadian people.