Belgium to create Europe's first gender-neutral schools

·3 min read
Secondary school children in Belgium will soon be able to list their gender as "neutral" when they enroll - KURT DESPLENTER /AFP
Secondary school children in Belgium will soon be able to list their gender as "neutral" when they enroll - KURT DESPLENTER /AFP

Parents will be able to select 'neutral' gender when enrolling kids in secondary schools in Belgium this September, under plans designed to combat discrimination.

Eleven-year-olds will be grouped according to three genders - male, female and neutral - in the first phase of a plan expected to lead to a redesign of toilets, changing rooms and sports lessons.

Between 1 per cent and 3 per cent of adults and up to 75,000 children in Belgium are transgender, according to estimates by LGBT groups.

“Unfortunately there have recently been several delicate situations of bullying of transgender children or adolescents in schools”, said Socialist education minister Caroline Désir.

Given that most classrooms will include one or more transgender children, it was important schools were given “serious” resources so these children can be “supported, heard and recognised”, she told a parliament committee.

Videos emphasising the positive images of trans children have already been rolled out across both primary and secondary French-speaking schools in Belgium. Schools will be “monitored” to ensure they use the material.

Representatives of gay and transgender groups are also scheduled to visit schools with the mission of “demystifying sexual orientation”. Teachers are to be offered training.

Collecting data via the enrolment form is likely to lead to schools redesigns taking in transgender kids' needs in terms of changing rooms, toilets and sports lessons, Ms Désir’s spokesman Jean-François Mahieu told the Telegraph.

“We are talking with associations like the Transkids Belgium and this is what they have been talking about,” he said.

Mr Mahieu said he was unaware of any similar gender-neutral school plans elsewhere in Europe.

A declaration on an enrolment form must be a first step, activists said. “We need to address the question of changing rooms, toilets and sports lessons,” Daphné Coquelle, founder of Belgium’s Transkids association, told newspaper La Deniere Heure.

Rather than “neutral”, a child’s gender should preferably be defined as “other” or ideally not at all, Ms Coquelle said. Parents should also be given the chance to opt out of the question.

Belgium’s Flemish children are already given some very straightforward sex education. A ‘youngsters’ guide’ for all 10-year-olds distributed by the Flemish government centre for sexual health included information on vibrators, butt plugs, penis rings and ‘Chinese balls’. Not all initiatives have been well received, however.

A past attempt to teach children about gender issues via the school curriculum did not go down well among one of Brussels’ biggest minorities: Turks.

Five thousand copies of a 2007 textbook were pulped after the inclusion of Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in a list of “famous people of homosexual or bisexual orientation”.

The education minister, who wanted teachers to pay attention to sexuality during history lessons and make up song about gays during French lessons, was given a dressing down at the Turkish embassy.

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