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Trans candidate wants to make Surrey schools safer

Recent graduate Nicole Joliet says students must be consulted

Activist Nicole Joliet wants to help shape Surrey’s new school policy on homophobia and transphobia.

Credit: Hannah Ackeral

Nicole Joliet doesn’t have degrees or a flashy campaign. Instead, Joliet, who is running independently for the Surrey school board, has strong principles, firsthand experience and a passion for politics in the Lower Mainland.  

“I’ve been kind of following politics in some form since I was about 12 or 13,” she says. “I’ve been following it more locally ever since Occupy Vancouver — that’s when I first got into activism and getting involved.”

She began to attend debates and join online discussions. As a result, she also became more educated on feminism and social justice issues, which had a very strong and personal effect.

“I figured out that one thing I was really questioning — that I hadn’t really looked at and felt really uncomfortable about — was my gender identity,” she says. She put her activism work on the back burner in favour of exploring that side of herself. Soon after she began transitioning, though, the Idle No More movement flared up and she was drawn back in. She began looking into ways to move forward and decided that the 2014 election would be the most fruitful.

“What I really wanted to do was get involved out here where I lived,” she says. “I started looking back at the new school district policy on transphobia and harassment and compared it to what Vancouver had done.”

A major part of Joliet’s platform is creating safer, more inclusive schools. She is open about the bullying she faced while in school and the feelings of isolation that resulted. For her, the bullying stemmed predominantly from her inability to meet male gender standards, but she saw again and again that bullying was more than kids being mean to other kids. She saw that it was a direct result of existing prejudices and engrained discrimination.

Joliet believes that replacing reactive punishments with a district-wide diversity curriculum that would teach racial, sexual and gender diversity in every grade would help make schools safer spaces. 

“I went to school in Burnaby for one year, and they actually had a gay-straight alliance there, and my small school in Langley didn’t until after I graduated. I know that my life would’ve been a lot better if I’d graduated from there, and I damn near likely would’ve started transitioning while I was there.”

It is also important to Joliet that students are involved in the process of creating these policies. “They are the ones who are experiencing these things, they are the ones affected by the policies, they are the ones best equipped to tell us what works for them, what kind of policy works for them,” she says.

At the heart of her campaign, Joliet sees herself as an advocate for students. It has been only a few years since she was a student in the Surrey district herself, and she has spent her time since graduation taking her education into her own hands.

“I’m not afraid to start fights with anyone I feel is getting in the way of queer and trans liberation, “ she says. “It will mean a public battle — we saw that in Vancouver; we’re seeing it in Burnaby again. It’s just a matter of when that fight happens, because that fight needs to happen. It needs to be done for the students.”