Hundreds of people gathered outside the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina on Saturday to speak out against a new provincial government policy that requires parental consent when children under 16 want to use different names or pronouns at school.
Brendan Dickey, a Regina-based teacher who helped organize the rally, says he believes the legislation will cause harm.
“It puts a whole bunch of youth at risk from the two-spirit, the trans and from the non-binary communities in our province,” Dickey said.
“We’re being told as educators that we are to out these students to their parents if they are not already out.”
The policy, announced by the provincial education minister on Aug. 22, states that “when a student requests that their preferred name, gender identity, and/or gender expression be used, parental/guardian consent will be required for students under the age of 16.”
Carla Blakley, a Lutheran pastor in Regina, says schools are meant to be a safe space for children and calls the policy “extremely harmful.”
“Kids just want to be who they are,” Blakley said at Saturday’s rally. “Sometimes homes are not safe and they can’t be out there.”
Leticia Coles’s child is non-binary, and has friends who are also non-binary or trans but don’t feel comfortable coming out to their family.
“Not all of them are out yet to their parents, and that could be a matter of whether they are worried about homelessness,” Coles said.
“I’ve made sure that we do have an extra space in our home for their friends, but no child should ever have to fear being thrown out just because of who they are.”
Ariana Giroux, director of the UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity —a non-profit service provider housed at the University of Regina — hopes the rally sends a message to the provincial government.
“We are here to show that the population of Saskatchewan does not stand for organized attacks on trends and queer rights,” Giroux said.
“The population of Saskatchewan wants to have queer and trans people welcome in our community.… We are here to show that we will not be quiet and that we will not stand aside when injustice happens.”
Government remains committed to policy
In an emailed statement on Saturday, a spokesperson said the Saskatchewan Party government “remains committed to implementing the policy.”
“Parents and guardians have an important role in protecting and supporting their children as they grow and develop,” the statement said.
There was no mention of the rally in the Saskatchewan government’s response.
Saturday’s rally in Regina comes after parents and teachers gathered in Saskatoon last Sunday in opposition to the policy.
Meanwhile, a recent survey released by the Angus Reid Institute found 50 per cent of Saskatchewan respondents said they wanted to be informed and provide consent for students to change their name or pronouns. The poll was conducted before Saskatchewan’s policies were announced.
The UR Pride Centre has filed legal action against the Saskatchewan government over the pronoun policy.
In its application, UR Pride said the rules are not justifiable under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and deny gender-diverse students basic entitlements, including “a safe and welcoming educational environment in which to be themselves.”
Lawyers from both sides are set to be in court for a case conference on Tuesday. That is also the first day of school for most Saskatchewan students.
“We’re challenging the constitutionality of the policy. That can take several months to do,” Bennett Jensen, director of legal for the advocacy group Egale Canada, which is co-counsel in the application, told CBC on Friday.
“So what we’re asking the court to do is order an injunction, so that while the court has the chance to adjudicate the legality of the policy, the policy won’t be in operation.”
Jensen said a date for the injunction ruling will be set Tuesday.