A professor who researches sexual and gender youth issues says he’s concerned naming and pronoun changes in Saskatchewan schools could cause other governments in Canada to adopt similar policies.
Kristopher Wells, the Canada Research Chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth, said the new policy requiring parental consent when children under 16 want to change their names or pronouns is part of a larger trend in North America.
In June, New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government’s decided to require children under 16 to have parental consent before they can change their names or pronouns at school.
“I think, sadly, these conservative governments feel that there is an audience for this,” Wells said in an interview Wednesday.
The Saskatchewan Party government announced its policy move Tuesday. Education Minister Dustin Duncan said the decision was made to standardize policies across all school divisions, and he had also heard concerns on the issue from parents and teachers.
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“Parents must be included in all important decisions involving their children,” Premier Scott Moe said online after the announcement.
However, the move has been condemned by human rights and LGBTQ organizations, which say the policy outs transgender kids to their parents, putting some at risk if they’re not accepted at home.
Teachers in Saskatchewan also can’t use a child’s preferred name if they don’t have the parent’s permission. Instead, they must use their birthname, which human rights groups say is harmful.
“It’s a matter of respect — respecting the person’s chosen name and their pronouns, (and) validating their identity and their existence,” Wells said.
A protest is scheduled this weekend in Saskatoon over the policy, and another is set for Sept. 2 at the legislature building in Regina.
Wells said other governments around the world have also enacted similar policies. For instance, Florida requires parents to give consent for teachers to call children by a nickname or other name. The state has also imposed laws to limit sexual education, including prohibitions on discussing sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Trans Legislation Tracker, a website that analyzes anti-transgender bills, says 83 such bills have been passed in the United States, with 358 to be voted on.
“It’s just part of this populist movement we see across the world,” Wells said. “It’s been part of this push by conservative forces, under the guise of so-called parental rights, that children need to be protected from this exposure to LBGTQ issues.”
He said if parents are concerned about their rights, all they have to do is ask their children about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“If that child feels comfortable sharing that information with their parents, then they’ll do so,” he said.
After New Brunswick announced its policy, the province’s child and youth advocate, Kelly Lamrock, said it had violated Charter rights. On Wednesday, Education Minister Bill Hogan changed the policy to allow psychologists and social workers to use preferred names and pronouns.
Lisa Broda, Saskatchewan’s child and youth advocate, has said she’s going to review her province’s new policy, adding she’s “deeply troubled” by effects it would have.
Along with the pronoun changes, Wells said he’s concerned with Saskatchewan’s decision to not use the ARC Foundation’s SOGI 123 program, a sexual education resource that supports inclusion for all people.
The program, which is used in other provinces, had been under development as part of a pilot program for some Saskatchewan schools. Duncan announced it would be paused.
“I’ve never seen a government actually single-out a particular organization before, to ban them from having resources to share,” Wells said.
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation said in a statement it had been working on the pilot program with the education ministry and other associations.
The federation has asked the government to reverse the policy and engage in meaningful consultation.
It said it had previously warned the government to not make “political knee-jerk reactions.”
Wells said those upset and affected by the policies can write to their elected officials, protest or have conversations with their educators.
“Fight back,” he said. “I think it’s very important that people don’t become complacent.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 23, 2023.
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