Alberta to require parental consent for name, pronoun changes in schools

Premier Danielle Smith has announced a raft of changes affecting transgender Albertans, including requiring parental consent for students 15 and under who want to change their names or pronouns at school.

Smith says students 16 and 17 would not need consent, but their parents must be notified.

She announced the changes Wednesday in a video posted to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, and said they came after discussions with her United Conservative Party caucus. 

Smith was slated to hold a news conference on the topic Thursday in Calgary.

In the video, Smith announced the transgender policies and guidelines ranging from restrictions on hormone therapy and surgery to participation in sport.

Smith said while her government wants transgender people to know they are supported, she can’t countenance allowing youth to make life-altering changes until they are mature enough.

“It’s to those children and teens that I want to say just how much we love you and support you in becoming the person you want to be,” Smith said in the seven-minute video.

“One of the greatest responsibilities we as parents, teachers and community leaders have is to preserve for our children the right to grow and develop into mature adults, so that they are better prepared to make the most impactful decisions affecting their lives.”

Smith announced gender reassignment surgery is to be banned for those 17 and under.

For those 15 and under, puberty blockers and hormone therapies for the purpose of gender reassignment or affirmation would also not be allowed, except for those who have already begun the process.

Youth who are 16 and 17 can begin hormone therapies if they are deemed mature enough and have parent, physician and psychologist approval.

In the classroom, parents would have to be notified and give consent for their child to be taught about gender identity, human sexuality and sexual orientation.

All third-party resource materials used to teach these subjects from kindergarten through Grade 12 must be approved in advance by the education ministry.

Smith said the province would also work with sport organizations to ensure women and girls do not have to compete against transgender female athletes. 

Transgender athletes, she said, would have a chance to compete through expanded coed leagues or other gender-neutral divisions.

“I strongly believe that those who were born male but have transitioned to or identify as female are owed the opportunity to meaningfully participate in sport,” said Smith.

“However, there are obvious biological realities that give transgender female athletes a massive competitive advantage over women and girls.

“It is not beneficial for those women, including those who are transgender, for this divisive and sometimes dangerous situation to continue.”

Alberta becomes the third province to announce a parental consent requirement in schools.

Saskatchewan and New Brunswick brought in similar rules last year requiring the consent for students 16 and under to change their names or pronouns. Protests and court challenges followed.

Saskatchewan also invoked the rarely used notwithstanding clause to override certain Charter rights in putting the policy into legislation.

LGBTQ advocacy groups Egale Canada and Skipping Stone Foundation said in a joint statement if Alberta moves ahead with the changes, it would bring legal action.

“The government of Alberta has chosen to play politics with some of the most vulnerable members of our society: trans and gender-diverse youth, attacking them for cheap political points to appeal to a far-right base. We will not stand for it.” 

Kristopher Wells, the Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth, sharply criticized Smith’s changes.

“It is a full-on attack against trans and 2SLGBTQ+ communities,” Wells, who is with MacEwan University in Edmonton, posted on X.

“There is no evidence or research to support any of these recommendations.

“It is not only immoral, it is illegal.”

The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association said he was worried about how the changes would affect the safety of some of the province’s most vulnerable students.

“We are concerned about the chilling effect placed on classrooms and schools, impacting our ability to provide safe, caring and inclusive spaces for all students,” Jason Schilling said in a statement. 

“We are concerned about how students may feel forced to suppress their identities and to be afraid of reaching out to teachers as an avenue for support.”

Schilling said teachers need to be consulted before the policies are enacted.

Marni Panas, a transgender woman in Edmonton, said her first reaction was “fear for what’s going to happen to these youth and children.”

“I’d laugh if I wasn’t crying so deeply,” Panas said in an interview.

She said there was no consultation with those who will be profoundly and negatively affected by the changes.

“These youth are going to have no place to go, except back into the closet or staying in the closet, until hopefully they live long enough to be able to find their own way,” she said.

Panas said Smith’s language also “villainizes trans people playing sports” and reinforces the idea that they are a risk. 

“She has made it that much more dangerous for any trans person in this province to exist. 

“Maybe that’s the point.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 31, 2024. 

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