New Brunswick's premier and education minister promised not to roll back any rights while reviewing a policy meant to protect LGBTQ children. Advocates and members of the community affected say the politicians didn't keep that promise.
Gail Costello of Pride in Education, a group that was involved in developing and implementing Policy 713, said it is now weaker.
"They have definitely rolled back their rights in [the sports] area and, without a doubt, in the self-identification and the names and the pronouns," she said after Education Minister Bill Hogan announced changes he'd made to the policy.
Policy 713 came into effect in 2020, outlining basic requirements for a safe environment for trans and queer kids in school. This included having gender-neutral washrooms in each school and respecting children's chosen names and pronouns.
On Thursday, Hogan said that under the new policy, it's no longer mandatory for teachers to respect the chosen names and pronouns of children under 16 years of age without parental consent. He did not make any substantial changes to washroom access.
It has always been mandatory to get parental consent to make a name change official for kids under 16.
The new policy says if those kids aren't ready to talk to their parents to make a name and pronoun change official, they should be referred to a mental health professional to develop a plan to speak to parents. If involving the parents "is not in the best interest of the child or could cause harm to the student (physical or mental threat), the student will be directed to the appropriate school professional for support," the new policy says.
The policy also no longer says students will be able to participate in extracurricular activities, including sports, that are consistent with their gender identity. It only says these activities will be "safe and welcoming," and removes any reference to gender.
The harm that has been caused by government's handling of this review, from its execution through to the release of the revised policy [Thursday] morning, cannot be overstated. - New Brunswick Women's Council
Costello said when a child asks to be referred to by a certain name and pronoun, they are asking the adult to respect their identity and the way they see themselves. If someone ignores this request, they are ignoring an integral part of the child, she said.
"They are harming children, so not only are they rolling back their rights, they're actually going to be harming children," she said.
WATCH | Harry Forestell talks Policy 713 changes with Pride in Education:
The New Brunswick Women's Council, which previously called on the province to pause the review and show proof that it was needed, said "The majority of revisions to Policy 713 are profoundly concerning."
"These changes unequivocally roll back options and protections for trans students in the school system," the council said in a statement.
"The harm that has been caused by government's handling of this review, from its execution through to the release of the revised policy ... cannot be overstated."
'That could be really damaging'
It is no longer against the rules for a teacher to ignore a child's request to be called by a different name and pronoun than is on the official record, when those changes have not been made with parental consent.
Hogan said this allows teachers to "maintain professionalism" and not have to go against parents' wishes.
Logan Martin, a Grade 11 student who met with Hogan when the review was underway, said he is very concerned about removing the part of the policy that protected kids from being called by names and pronouns that do not reflect their gender identity.
"This year you could have had a teacher who completely supports you and your use of informal names or pronoun," he said, but the next year you could have a teacher who won't.
"That could be really damaging for a student who may have to hear their birth name instead of their, you know, chosen name."
When it comes to students being referred for counselling, Martin said in his school the wait lists can be months long.
"He's saying, you know, you're going to speak with school social workers and school psychologists to establish a plan. Except how long will it take to establish this plan?" he said.
"While you wait to establish a plan, you can either, you know, come out to your parents, which, as stated in the policy, there could be a physical or mental threat, or you can face the damages of being dead named by teachers and staff."
The term dead name means former name, often a birth name.
The New Brunswick Teachers' Association said if the province is making it mandatory to refer trans students to school resources, then those resources should be increased.
"Many schools are suffering significant daily staffing shortages and accessing the supports noted in the revision may not be currently realistic," said Connie Keating, president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association.
Thankful washroom rights weren't rolled back
Hogan had previously said he was reviewing the washroom part of Policy 713 because "We want to talk about the rights of female students and whether or not they're comfortable going into a washroom with a biological male."
Costello said she's thankful the right to use the washroom of their choice, which is also guaranteed by the provincial Human Rights Act, was not taken away.
And Martin said there was a small win in the policy changes. The revised version says each school should have universal change rooms and washrooms.
"[That's] kind of a win for us because that's another protected facility," he said.
Premier Blaine Higgs previously said he wanted to review the sports section of the policy because he was concerned about the impact on "fairness" in girls sports because of allowing trans girls to play on their teams.
Andy Clark, president of the New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association that represents 16 school sports, said allowing trans kids to play on whichever team they choose has never caused any issues.
Removing the line "consistent with the gender identity" from the policy also has no impact on kids, he said. They will continue to be able to play on the team they feel most comfortable.