LGBTQ advocates in Saskatchewan gear up for human rights fight over pronoun rules

Fran Forsberg fought years ago for a gender marker to be removed from her child’s birth certificate. 

Now up against the Saskatchewan Party government’s pronoun and naming changes in schools, she says she’s prepared to fight again.

“I think I’m going to have a bigger army behind me this time,” Forsberg said. 

“I’m a scrapper. I’m not quitting.”

Forsberg, a mother in Saskatoon with two children who are transgender, was at the centre of a human rights complaint almost ten years ago. In 2014, the province’s Vital Statistics Agency refused to change her daughter Renn’s sex designation on her birth certificate. 

The case made its way through court. In 2018, Saskatchewan Justice Lana Krogan ruled gender markers could be removed from birth certificates for youth if requested, concluding not doing so was discriminatory.

Forsberg said she plans to file another humans rights complaint, possibly with other people, over Saskatchewan’s recent changes that affect LGBTQ children. The province is requiring parental consent when children under 16 want to change their names or pronouns at school. 

“I’m dumbfounded, to tell you the truth,” Forsberg said. “I feel like we had made so much progress with the court decision, and now all that feels like it has been erased.”

Education Minister Dustin Duncan has said the ministry made the changes because it wanted to standardize policies across all school divisions, and he also heard concerns from parents and teachers. 

He also announced parents could pull their children from all or some sexual education courses.Third parties can no longer teach those courses.

“Our teachers are great and they do a great job, but parents are the most important people in children’s lives,” Duncan told reporters earlier this week.

“By and large, what parents are telling me is they want to get back to the basics. They also want to be informed about the most important decisions that their children are making. And that’s not always the case.”

Human rights and LGBTQ organizations have condemned the move, saying the policy outs transgender kids to their parents, putting some at risk if they are not accepted at home.

They also worry about potential harms if teachers can no longer address students by their preferred name. 

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has said it’s considering legal measures against the province. It has already threatened to sue New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government for making similar changes.

A spokesperson with the association said it has begun discussing legal possibilities with organizations in Saskatchewan. 

Forsberg said she has planned a rally for Sunday in Saskatoon outside the office of Don Morgan, a Saskatchewan Party cabinet minister. She hopes many show up.

“Even allowing a parent to pull their kid out of sex education, to me, is so flippin’ backwards.”

Larry Kowalchuk, a human rights lawyer who represented Forsberg and another family in the birth certificate dispute, said people should listen to medical professionals, teachers and counsellors opposed to the changes. 

“I’m not suggesting that parents don’t have a role,” he said. “All I’m saying is that when our children leave to go to school, they spend most of their waking time in school and even participating in activities after school. We trust the teachers and the counsellors to care for them. We always have.”

Kowalchuk pointed to a part the in judge’s decision over the birth certificate case that said the human rights code “is essential to the health and strength of our community.”

In an emailed statement, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission said it was made aware of the changes through the media and that “it would not be appropriate to speak specifically with respect to this policy matter at this time.”

It said the code contains provisions against discrimination and harassment based on gender identity and gender expression.

Saskatchewan’s Opposition NDP has said the government is catering to the right-wing after the upstart Saskatchewan United Party, a right-of-centre movement, gained traction in a recent rural byelection. The united party described the changes on social media as a victory.

Forsberg said she also believes the government is “throwing shade for their far-right.”

“They’re putting kids’ lives at risk. It’s what they’re doing.”

–The Canadian Press–

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