Hundreds of people assembled in Saskatoon Sunday afternoon, protesting new policies around students' pronouns and sexual education in schools.
Sunday's rally occurred around the Wildwood area, outside the office of Don Morgan, the minister of Crown Investment Corporation, as well as labour relations and workplace safety. It is the latest in a wave of opposition to the education policies announced earlier this week.
"Stop this. It's not in the interest of saving children, or making children safe," said Fran Forsberg, one of the rally organizers. Two of her children are transgender.
"You are putting youth and children in harm's way."
On Tuesday, Education Minister Dustin Duncan announced several new policies around sexual education and the use of pronouns in schools throughout the province.
If a student is younger than 16, schools must now seek permission from their parent or guardian to change the child's pronouns and preferred name. Consent is not required for students aged 16 or older.
Parents and guardians must now be informed about the sex education curriculum, and have the option to pull their child from participating.
School boards must also cease inviting third-party organizations — excluding provincial government and Saskatchewan Health Authority employees — to present about sexual health education in classrooms, until the education ministry finishes reviewing its materials for the curriculum.
In the meantime, only teachers are allowed to conduct sexual education in classrooms.
The announcement stems from an incident that occurred in Lumsden High School in June, just before the end of the school year.
Many people at Sunday's rally focused on the pronoun policy announced by Saskatchewan Education Minister Dustin Duncan on Tuesday. (Camille Cusset/CBC)
Planned Parenthood Regina, a sexual health clinic that offers community programming, among other things, presented to a Grade 9 health class about contraception, consent, and sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections — which aligned with the curriculum.
The presenters left behind additional resources if students wanted to learn more. One student picked up a copy of a card set titled Sex from A-Z, which was unrelated to the presentation and not age-appropriate.
The new policies are an attempt to get parents more involved in their children's schooling, and create uniformity across school divisions when it comes to dealing with these matters, Duncan previously said.
On Sunday, Premier Scott Moe posted on social media, defending the policies.
He has been touring the province and, at "every stop," he has received positive responses to the new policy, he said.
Yet, since Tuesday morning, the Opposition NDP, educators, health professionals and sexual health stakeholders have strongly opposed the move. They are concerned that the pronoun policy could harm transgender and non-binary children, and lesser sexual education could harm students in general.
Sunday's rally occurred in Saskatoon's Wildwood area, outside the office of Don Morgan, who is the minister of Crown Investment Corporation and the minister of labour relations and workplace safety. (Camille Cusset/CBC)
"Kids do better [in school] when parents are involved," said NDP education critic Matt Love, who attended Sunday's rally. "The fact is, these policies are forcing schools and teachers into a position that could put children at risk."
Lisa Broda, Saskatchewan's Advocate for Children and Youth, has announced her office will be reviewing the new pronoun policy — about which she said they were not advised.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, a non-partisan non-profit organization that focuses on protecting human rights and freedoms, suggests the pronoun policy discriminates against gender-diverse students specifically and could violate privacy rights if someone was outed.
Critics have questioned which experts the government consulted when crafting — and moving forward with — the new education policies, as there is a body of research that suggests how harmful they could be.
CBC News asked Duncan that question earlier this week. He evaded answering directly, but said the government would be consulting and researching moving forward.
On Sunday, Moe acknowledged on social media that he had been asked the same question.
"I believe the leading experts in children's upbringing are their parents," he said.
'Not all parents are safe to involve'
People who spoke with CBC News Sunday didn't fully support Moe's belief, because not all parents are open to gender diversity.
Teresa Mead, a therapist, has consulted with schools to identify safe people — teachers, in particular — for gender-diverse youth to talk to, in between therapy sessions, she said.
Teresa Mead, a therapist, says schools and teachers are often safe havens for gender diverse students. (Camille Cusset/CBC)
"They need to be validated in the world that they live in," she said.
Mead has seen the role teachers can play in her personal life, too. Mead is an open ally of the LGBTQ community, she said. Yet, her own child waited nine months to come out to her about being transgender.
Her child first came out to a teacher, Mead said.
"They were still worried that I would kick them out of the home," she said.
Wilbur Braidek, 14, finds the new pronoun policy "really stupid."
Wilbur Braidek, left, attended Sunday's rally with his mother Jessica Fraser, right. Braidek changed his name at school last year without telling his parents. (Camille Cusset/CBC)
He changed his preferred name last year, so for him, the new policy — and the paperwork that comes with it — would be an inconvenience "just to get them to call me my name," Braidek said.
Braidek changed his name without telling his parents, said Jessica Fraser, his mother.
"Not all parents are safe to involve," she said.
"Our kids should be able to be themselves at school. School should be a safe place, where you can trust the people around you and be yourself — and sometimes home isn't that."
Don Kossick, who was appointed to the Order of Canada this year in part for promoting human rights and social justice, was among the crowd in Saskatoon Sunday.
He wants the government to "back off right away and apologize," Kossick told CBC News.
"They've caused a commotion in this province. It's not fair — and it's not fair to the people who want to be who they are," he said.
Trans Lifeline provides a national phoneline operated by transgender people for people who are transgender or questioning their gender identity. Canadians can access support by calling the 24-hour service at 1-877-330-6366.