Sask Party Pronoun-Name Usage Questioned

The Sask Party government is reported to have rushed creating policy regarding pronoun/name preference for Saskatchewan students. News agencies in Saskatchewan claim an affidavit proves that as little as nine days, went into formulating the policy. The Premier stated again following the release of the report by Dr. Lisa Broda, Saskatchewan’s Advocate for Children and Youth, that parents across the province had been asking MLAs for the policy. Yet, according to an affidavit signed by Assistant Deputy Minister of Education, Michael Walter, between early June and early August, then-Education Minister Duncan received 18 letters regarding the New Brunswick sexual orientation and gender identity policy and of the 18 letters, only seven people identified themselves as parents of school-aged children.

Walter’s affidavit went on to say, “On Aug. 9, 2023, I received instructions from the minister's office to begin the development of a policy that would increase parental involvement in the event that a student wanted to change their name and/or pronouns at school to reflect their gender choice." He said he was contacted by then-Education Minister Dustin Duncan's chief of staff, Mitchell Graw, who said government MLAs, "had been contacted by constituents expressing concerns about how students were permitted to change their names and pronouns secretly in school without any parental involvement or notice." Following that, the ministry prepared a draft policy on Aug. 14. From Aug. 14 to Aug. 18, the ministry tweaked other policies and procedures to "align with the policy”, and the final draft was sent to the minister on Aug. 18.

Countering the information given in the affidavit, the Premier claims the policy had been discussed at the elected level of government for some time. He also stated that despite Dr. Lisa Broda’s finding that the policy contravened the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the lawsuit launched by UR Pride Centre, and evidence that experts and school divisions were not consulted, the implementation of the policy would not be stalled.

Kerri Froc, an associate professor at the University of New Brunswick who specializes in constitutional law said in an interview with Global News regarding the policies brought forth by the New Brunswick and Saskatchewan governments, “They very explicitly, on their face, make a distinction and target transgender students.” She also noted that the policies do not apply to students with ethnic names who want to anglicize them, even if that change would be of interest to their parents.

In an opinion piece in the September 21st, 2023, Globe and Mail, Lee Airton, Scout Gray, Jake Pyne, Mik Turje, and Tracy Whitmore* wrote that as researchers and professionals with expertise in school policy and practices related to gender and sexuality, and in therapeutic support for transgender young people and their parents, they could not mince words. “If the Saskatchewan and New Brunswick governments use the notwithstanding clause to proceed with enacting their policies, they will be legislating harm on extremely vulnerable children and youth by forcing transgender students under 16 to either be prematurely outed or to experience circumstances that contribute to increased suicide attempts, including being called by a name and/or pronouns that do not reflect their gender identity.” A milestone 2018 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that transgender youth who are able to use their preferred names and pronouns reported a 34 percent drop in suicidal thoughts and a 65 percent decrease in suicide attempts.

The underlying message to parents and the public through the language used implies that schools and parents are on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to children, and it leaves parents afraid that their own child might be living a different life at school than at home, gender-wise, and that teachers and classmates know, but no one will let them in on the secret. However, the fear parents are feeling is largely due to politicians telling an incomplete story, for their own political gain, about what happens when a transgender student comes out at school first. The belief that parents are automatically excluded based on an assumption schools hold that they will harm their child if they find out, is unfounded.

A transgender student’s best interests are served when school staff take an active role in supporting the parent-child relationship and this includes supporting a transgender student in coming to feel safe and comfortable sharing their gender information with their parents, whenever possible. It is never easy to identify as “different” and young people are often quick to assume responsibility for their parents' emotions, so for some, telling parents the potentially ‘disappointing’ news that they are not who they seem, can be quite difficult.

“In our experience,” Airton et al say, “this is typically what happens in schools. In fact, it is very rare that school staff respond to a transgender student’s request for confidentiality only by taking steps to ensure that this information stays private. This typically happens when there is evidence that a student is at risk of harm from their parents.” In a perfect world, all children would have the unconditional love and support of their parents and family, but that is not always the case. In a 2019 survey conducted by TransPulse Canada, one in four trans-youth surveyed reported having family members stop speaking to them or ended the relationship entirely. Others reported being kicked out of the house, threatened with violence, or being a victim of violence from a family member. The other side of the coin, however, is that six in ten reported being respected and supported by their parents.

The approach described in the Saskatchewan and New Brunswick policies will not bring parents into the conversation because they are already there. These approaches will only result in transgender youth simply not accessing supportive adults at school.

*[Lee Airton is an assistant professor of gender and sexuality studies in education at Queen’s University. Scout Gray is an education and youth engagement specialist with the non-profit SOGI 1 2 3. Jake Pyne is an assistant professor at the York University School of Social Work. Mik Turje and Tracy Whitmore are social workers specializing in queer and trans community support.]

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder