N.B. education minister defends Policy 713 review as student rallies continue
New Brunswick's education minister is blaming the media for widespread public backlash over the review of Policy 713.
"The message that I've been saying hasn't been clearly heard or communicated by the press, for whatever the reason," Bill Hogan said on Friday.
Protests involving hundreds of people have taken place this week in several communities around the province. Most recently, on Friday, students from Kennebecasis Valley High and Rothesay High rallied in the Quispamsis Arts and Culture Park.
It's been happening since it was revealed the Progressive Conservative government was reviewing a policy introduced in 2020 that lays out minimum requirements for school districts to create a safe, welcoming learning environment for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Advocates for the LGBTQ community have said the policy is invaluable to protect students who are at greater risk of mental health issues, bullying, parental abuse and suicide.
"This policy certainly is a good policy," Hogan said on Information Morning Fredericton.
"We currently do protect the rights of LGBTQ … students and create safe spaces for them in an inclusive environment, and that will continue," he said.
"There is no intent to try and walk any of that stuff back."
However, at the same time, Hogan also suggested that so-called "community standards" and the wishes of parents deserve more consideration than they are currently being given.
"Notwithstanding the rights of people that are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms … in my community, people believe that they should be informed if their child says all of a sudden they want to be referred to by a different pronoun."
Hogan said he's received emails, texts, Facebook messages, and voicemails from people complaining about Policy 713.
He once again declined to quantify those complaints, saying he didn't want to bicker over how many or which ones had formed the basis for the review.
"It's a minister's prerogative to review the policy," he said.
WATCH | Students stand up for Policy 713:
Hogan said questions about why he would not release the complaints deflected from "the real issue" — that being the application of Policy 713.
"There seems to be some confusion created with the policy in the curriculum," he said.
"Children are coming home saying, 'I like to hang out with my hockey buddies. Does that mean I'm gay, Dad?' And parents are saying, 'Where did you hear that?'"
Clearly, the policy is not curriculum, he said, but what we're teaching and when we're teaching it needs to be examined, he elaborated in a scrum with reporters later Friday morning.
Hogan did give one example of a relevant complaint he's received. It was from a parent who objected to their child in Grade 2 wanting to use gender-neutral pronouns.
A case like that has nothing to do with "a safe environment," he said, and the parent's wishes should be given more respect.
"If a parent doesn't want their child to be referred to as they … would prefer for them to be referred to as she or he, you know, that's a parent's right," he said.
Policy 713 leaves it to the student's discretion whether parents are notified about their informal personal pronoun choices in school. Earlier this week, Premier Blaine Higgs said that was the main issue with the policy.
The idea that notifying parents that their child is choosing to use a different name or pronoun in school would not affect the student's safety contradicts assessments that have been heard from longtime educators and doctors who work with the LGBTQ community, that some students would be in danger if their parents knew they were trans or gay.
Asked about the potential risk to students whose families might kick them out of the house, or worse, because of their sexual or gender identity, Hogan maintained his stance that there are other protections against that.
"I spent 35 years in the public education system. I'm well aware that not every parent is perfect and that we have some serious, serious challenges with some parents and some students aren't safe in their homes.
"We do have a mechanism to address that and that's child protection," he said.
"If a student says, 'I don't feel safe, I think I'm going to get abused if I go home and say this to my parents,' then the obligation is on the teacher, legally, to call Social Development and call child protection and report that."
Another reason he isn't comfortable with Policy 713 is his belief it's "asking teachers to be not upfront and truthful with parents."
Hogan said in his opinion, it would "cause problems" if a student met some classmates while at the mall with their parents and the classmates called them by a name the parents didn't know anything about.
It would be better to share the information, he suggested, because that would facilitate the involvement of professional counsellors.
Hogan said he wouldn't comment on what Premier Higgs said earlier this week, when he said he doesn't think elementary and kindergarten children should attend drag queen storytime events.
Higgs said, "Are we trying to teach tolerance and acceptance, or are we trying to teach promotion?"
But Hogan said he does not believe children "learn to be gay."
Hogan said he had done a lot of research on gender issues and understands gender exists on a spectrum and that gender dysmorphia is a real thing.
Hogan acknowledged that few members of the PC caucus seem to share his concerns about Policy 713.
They have not reported much feedback from constituents concerned about parental rights being neglected by the policy, he said.
He speculated that may be because they don't understand the significance of seeing "they" or "them" used on their child's report card.
One PC MLA, Andrea Anderson-Mason, had been scheduled to give an interview on the matter to Information Morning on Friday but cancelled Thursday night, saying she'd been told to let Hogan speak instead.
Hogan said that was not by his order.
Hogan confirmed that he had yet to meet with any representatives of LGBTQ advocacy groups for the policy review and had no firm dates set to do so, but said he has "full intention" of consulting the LGBTQ community, parents and teachers.
He said he also wants to make sure gender-neutral washrooms are available in schools. And in cases where there's no separate facility available, to find out whether female students are comfortable with trans students using theirs.