DiManno: Halton school board’s failure to deal with prosthetic-breasts controversy makes a mockery of equity

Good test for reasonable accommodation. IMO, fails the test given health and safety concerns (they teach shop):

The biggest breasts on record belong to one Annie Hawkins-Turner, from Atlanta, measuring 70 inches across and weighing 65 pounds each. Size 102 ZZZ.

But an allegedly transgender Halton teacher is giving Hawkins-Turner a good run for her tatas.

Of course Hawkins-Turner’s bosom was a naturally occurring endowment. The medical condition is called gigantomastia — a rare phenomenon that causes breasts to grow excessively large. Kayla Lemieux, an industrial arts instructor who apparently began identifying as female last year, showed up at school this term with oversized knockers, prosthetics that sag below her waistline, with protruding nipples the size of your knuckles. These features have been accentuated by tight-clinging sweaters.

Students were shocked, although presumably they’ve since grown accustomed to their teacher’s dimensions. Parents, upon learning of the situation — from clandestinely recorded videos that exploded on social media in September, making headlines around the world — protested in front of Oakville Trafalgar High School and complained to the Halton District School Board. I doubt whether any, or many, would be objecting to Lemieux’s gender transition. Gender identity and gender expression are protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

That’s not the point. And frankly I don’t know the point that Lemieux seems to be making, unless this is all a bollixed misreported story driven by right wing media and reactionary organizations. If this is how she wishes to present herself to the world, so be it. Although I do wonder if such large breasts are a safety hazard whilst teaching shop.

A reasonable conclusion would be that Lemieux, for reasons known only to her, is making an exhibitionistic and provocative spectacle of herself. That too might be entirely within her rights. You might recall that women in Ontario won the right to go topless way back in 1996, a legal fight that went all the way to the Court of Appeal. The appellant, who’d been convicted by a lower court judge of committing an indecent act — she’d removed her top on a sweltering summer day — had argued against the double-standard that permitted men to go topless but not women. At rallies across the province, women came out to decry the original charge, and part of that movement was aimed at desexualizing female breasts. They’re not always, certainly not exclusively, about sexual arousal — despite what you might think, walking into any strip club.

The Halton school board was singularly incapable of resolving the controversy and, in September, passed a motion asking director of education, Curtis Ennis, about the feasibility of introducing a dress code for teachers. Education Minister Stephen Lecce also asked the Ontario College of Teachers to review professional conduct for teachers, arising from Lemieux’s pendulous udders.

Last week, after a report was presented to trustees, the board claimed it couldn’t implement a teacher dress code, although students are routinely subjected to restrictions.

I’ve read the report, signed by Ennis and Sari Taha, superintendent of human resources at the board. It makes no direct reference to a specific teacher or concern, as if the whole tizzy sprang out of nowhere. Instead, it pivots on the broader issue of a non-discriminatory dress code, its permissibility. Since the parameters of the report don’t address the elephant in the classroom, it’s impossible to speculate whether any such dress code would prohibit exceedingly humongous prostheses.

Upshot: Any dress code for teachers — which clearly was a roundabout way of getting to Lemieux’s dramatically emphasized breasts/nipples — would purportedly expose the board to “considerable liability” for violating the human rights code. Read: lawsuit. Further — and this sounds very much like gilding the liability lily — new rules can’t even be considered at this moment because of ongoing collective bargaining with teacher unions.

The Ontario Labour Relations Act imposes a “statutory freeze” during periods when there is no governing collective agreement, prohibiting employers from altering working conditions during negotiations.

Saturated in diversity and inclusion buzz phrases, the report, abysmally written — bureaucracies are averse to plain-speak — leans heavily into the province’s human rights code. Did they not take a close read of the Commission’s policies on workplace dress codes? Workers in Ontario, and everywhere else, are commonly held to dress code provisos — from restaurant employees to lawyers appearing robed in court to airline crews to health care staff wearing scrubs.

Some places — Hooter’s for instance — compel female employees to wear skimpy butt-cheek exposing outfits and hosiery. It is this kind of wardrobe to which the OHRC draws disapproving attention. “Some Ontario employers require female employees to dress in a sexualized or gender-specific way at work, such as expecting women to wear high heels, short skirts, tight clothing or low-cut tops,” the Commission states on its webpage. “These kinds of dress codes reinforce stereotypical and sexist notions about how women should look and may violate Ontario’s Human Rights Code … They contribute to an unwelcome and discriminatory employment environment for women.”

On the issue of preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression, specifically addressing the trans community: “Dress code policies should be inclusive and flexible. They should not prevent trans people and others from dressing according to their expressed gender.”

Which it seems the Halton board wasn’t pursuing. Lemieux is completely free to dress in a dress, to use the personal pronoun of her choice, and to have her dignity respected.

But this situation is the inverse of what the Commission is promoting by calling out “stereotypical and sexist” dress codes or in any way interfering with trans rights to dress according to their expressed gender. What the Commission doesn’t address, far as I can tell and probably because they never saw it coming, is whether that respect should extend to in-your-face breast prostheses, which wouldn’t necessarily apply only to trans individuals.

Now, I understand the Halton board’s leeriness in taking a dress code risk that could result in a costly human rights wrangle. I’m dubious, however, that directing a teacher to knock off the buxom exhibitionism violates anybody’s human rights.

From the report: “To the extent that workplace policies mandate that employees dress in a particular manner, it is important for those policies to be gender neutral in their application, and that they impose similar dress standards and requirements for all employees, regardless of gender.”

What, pray tell, would be the cisgender, gay, lesbian or trans yin to Lemieux’s extravagant prosthesis yang?

It makes no rational sense. It is folly.

But, it does makes a mockery of equity.

Source: Halton school board’s failure to deal with prosthetic-breasts controversy makes a mockery of equity

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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