A new policy in Vancouver has schools forgoing the use of "he" and "she" for the more gender-neutral "xe" (pronounced "zee"), in an effort to take a stand for their transgender students. Those students also will be allowed to use whichever bathroom they prefer, as well as to choose which group to join during gender-segregated activities.
"We're standing up for kids and making our schools safer and more inclusive," school board member Mike Lombardi told The Vancouver Sun.
Angry parents met the Vancouver School Board when the policy was passed at a public meeting. The parents claim some of the children this will be affecting are too young to be making gender decisions, and that the policy could lead to teachers pushing certain views on students, writes Matthew Robinson for The Vancouver Sun. Other parents claimed the practice would lower real estate values in the area.
"I am so proud to support these policy revisions," said school board chairwoman Patti Bacchus. "I had no idea how important they were until what we went through with this process â¦ I didn't realize how much opposition there was out there in our communities to keeping kids safe and included and welcome."
The debate is not a new one. Webster's Dictionary included "thon", an abbreviation of "that one", as a gender-neutral pronoun in 1934 in an effort to simplify written language. Research suggests similar discussions were held in the 1800s.
Vancouver is not the first Canadian city to adapt such a policy, according to an article by Alexandra Posadzki of The Daily Globe and Mail.
Many other school districts have similar policies. Edmonton Public Schools has had a policy on sexual orientation and gender identity that allows youth access to gender-neutral bathrooms for more than a year. "We're catching up to where our kids have been," said board chair Sarah Hoffman.
According to Matthew Coutts for Yahoo News Canada, several other countries are beginning the process of finding gender-neutral terminology.
In 2011, Sweden, thought to be one of the most progressive countries for gender equality, added "hen" to its encyclopedia as an alternative to "he" and "she". One preschool stopped using the terms "boys" and "girls" in favor of "hens" and "friends" and encourages both sex students to do anything they want to in terms of play, regardless of gender role. For example, the boys at the school were encouraged to play dress-up and play with dolls if that's what they voiced interest in doing.
Australia is coming to similar conclusions, when the highest court began to recognize the existence of another "non-specific" gender earlier this year. The country has not agreed on how to refer to this group.
The new pronouns were a suggestion of the board's youth pride committee, whose goal was simply to make students feel safe and comfortable while at school, writes Joseph Brean for The National Post.
"It does require one to be quite mindful," said Lisa Pedrini, VSB's manager of social responsibility and diversity, although it would only apply to a "very tiny tiny minority" of students.