On June 14 2013, City View Alternative Senior School in Toronto's West End became the first grade 7 and 8 school in North America to proactively establish a multi stall all-gender washroom. This is the story of our six month journey
There is a student mailbox in my classroom. It’s locked, oddly shaped and multi-coloured, and it has an opening where anyone can drop in a note. Sometimes I get a letter of appreciation, other times a call for help. And on the last day of school in June of this year there was a tiny purple strip of unsigned paper that simply read “Sometimes it’s the small things that matter the most.” Perhaps coincidentally, we had just celebrated the opening of an all-gender multi-stall washroom, the culmination of a six-month journey that began in December of 2012.
I work at City View Alternative Senior School in Toronto’s west end, a grade 7 and 8 school where the provincial curriculum is taught through the lens of social justice. Race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, power, and oppression are all integrated as the content material in many of the classes, along with an emphasis on activism and the need to do something to change the world rather than simply discuss it.
So it’s probably not surprising that one or more of our students began mucking with the signs on our washroom doors. A sketch of a pair of pants was taped on top of the skirt. A slip of paper that read “Not all girls wear dresses” appeared. And on the boys’ door: “Some boys wear skirts.”
We had been discussing the difference between sex and gender in some of our health classes through the fall term. In a written reflection, grade 8 student Celeste wrote: “I used to think that they were the same thing, but I quickly learned that they are two very different things.” And Misha commented, “I have always known that sex is what you are physically and gender is what you feel you are on the inside, but I always thought that there were just two or three ‘set in stone’ sexes and genders – I learned that there is a large spectrum, and different people can fall anywhere on that spectrum.”
The idea that gender is a social construct, that it’s society’s arbitrary “rule book” for what your body means, is not beyond the average 12-year-old. But people of all ages do need ample time to discuss and differentiate between sex, gender, and sexuality. One resource that was helpful for our students was The Genderbread Person