A protected right’: Saskatchewan family speaks out over pronoun and name changes

An early-childhood educator at a public school in Regina is concerned about Saskatchewan’s new changes requiring parental consent when children under 16 years old want to change their names or pronouns. 

Kiké Dueck loves gym class, especially long-distance running. 

The 10-year-old, who is nonbinary, says everyone at school “is really good about gender,” but knows not all parents are accepting.

“There’s a few people in my school that are in the LGBTQ2S+ community but are afraid to tell their parents,” said Dueck, sitting beside their mom, Dennie Fornwald, in their Regina home.

“I don’t know anybody in my class that has wanted to change their name, except for one. But for pronouns, there is one person.”

The mother added, “There was one kid that said, ‘Hey, I’m not ready to use these pronouns at home yet.'”

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That’s one reason why Fornwald, an early-childhood educator at a public school in Regina, is concerned about Saskatchewan’s new changes requiring parental consent when children under 16 years old want to change their names or pronouns. 

She said because kids will need their parents to sign a consent form, it would likely result in some having to go back into the closet. 

Dennie Fornwald, an early childhood educator, embraces her 10-year-old child, Kiké Dueck, in Regina on Aug. 24, 2023. Fornwald says she’s upset with the Saskatchewan Party government’s decision to require parental consent when children under 16 years old want to change their names or pronouns at school, as it would affect children, such as Dueck, who is nonbinary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeremy Simes

Fornwald also worries about the changes affecting her own kids, saying it could embolden people to express homophobic or transphobic views. She has another child who is gender diverse. 

“I’ve been teaching a long time,” she said, with tears welling in her eyes. 

“I know a lot of kids that this is going to affect negatively, kids whose families I know and I like. I think of all the kids out there who don’t have a safe person at home — hopefully yet. I think some of them could get there.”

Earlier this week, Saskatchewan Education Minister Dustin Duncan announced the changes he said stemmed from concerns he heard from some parents and teachers. He said he also wanted to standardize policies across all school divisions. 

Duncan also announced parents could pull their children from all or some sexual education courses, and that third parties can no longer teach those courses.

“If we are requiring school divisions to get parental consent to a half-day field trip to the science centre, I think we need to be treating this issue with the same amount of seriousness,” Duncan said.

Fornwald balked at that comparison. 

“This is different, this is identity,” she said. “This is something essential, a protected right.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has said it’s considering legal challenges against the province for the move, saying it puts some LGBTQ children at risk if they’re not accepted at home. 

“I just found that it was quite surprising,” Dueck said. “(Kids) need a safe place to discover who they are.”

Duncan said teachers would be required to address students by their birth name if their parents did not provide consent, something human rights groups say is also harmful. 

Fornwald said her child was initially a little scared but then felt relieved after opening up about being nonbinary, or neither male nor female. 

As an educator, she said she won’t out any kids.

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“I’ll work from an assumption that families want what’s best for their kids. I always start the year getting to know families with that assumption in mind,” she said. 

“For those times that I’m not sure if we’re on the same page when it comes to gender diversity, I know that the curriculum supports me to support all of my students.”

Duncan said teachers won’t be penalized for not following the policy.

Jaimie Smith-Windsor, president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, said the changes have put school divisions in a “very difficult position,” and has asked the province to pause the policy until the child advocate’s independent review is completed. 

Smith-Windsor said the changes cast doubt on teachers’ relationships with parents, despite parents being involved. 

“It’s definitely not the message we would send to the public, to parents, and especially to students and staff when they return to school in a couple of weeks’ time.”

Fornwald said parents have always been welcome in the classroom and to read the curriculum. 

“I trust that they care for and want the best thing for their kids, and I want them to know that I want what’s best for my students,” she said. 

“I view kids as individuals, as full humans. And I think that the only time that I would have a problem letting parents in is if I think it’s violating the privacy and the rights of my students. Otherwise, we’re a team.”

The mother looked at her child and said she hopes the adults can figure it out. 

“You’re also kids, and kids need to be kids.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2023.

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