Nearly 100 people were in front of Prince Albert Northcote MLA Alana Ross’ office on Tuesday evening to protest against the Saskatchewan government’s education policy changes around sex education and gender identity.
The protest came exactly a week after now former Minister of Education Dustin Duncan announced the controversial policy changes. Organizers said the goal was to voice concerns about the policy and stand up for students before they come back to school.
“This happened just before we’re going back to school, when we’ve got LGBTQ students who spent an entire summer away from that supportive environment where they had an opportunity to be themselves,” said John Brady McDonald, the LGBTQ member for CUPE Saskatchewan’s Card Committee, and one of the speakers at the demonstration. “They’re going into an environment now where it was safe and now that safety is at risk, that’s where my biggest concern is, is with me, with students are going back. We’re going back to uncertainty.”
Changes announced included parent and guardian consent for students under 16 will now be required to change a student’s name or pronouns in the school. For students 16 and over, parent/guardian consent is not required.
Schools must seek parent and guardian permission when changing the preferred name and pronouns used by students under the age of 16 in the school. Parents and guardians must also be informed about the sexual health education curriculum and have the option to decline their children’s participation.
All education boards must immediately pause involvement with any third-party organization, such as ARC Foundation and the SOGI 1 2 3 Program, connected to sexual health education as the ministry undertakes review of educational resources to ensure alignment with curriculum outcomes. Only teachers, not outside third-parties, will be able to present sexual education materials in the classroom. This directive does not include professionals employed by government ministries or the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
McDonald added that his concern was if the safe space would still be there when students return on Sept. 5.
McDonald was pleased to see the support from a community that he admitted was very conservative.
“I am so happy to see so many supporters, so many allies that we’re having in this community that we’re in,” he said.
“It gives me hope for the future. It’s a spark in a very dark room.”
McDonald said that they will continue to use their voices to protest the policy changes.
“As allies (and) as activists, we are going to continue to use our voice,” he said. “Those of us who are here are standing up for those who are still behind closed doors and those who are being shoved back behind closed doors … and we are going to continue to advocate for those young people.”
McDonald said that parents entrust their children with teachers and school staff for 32 and a half hours per week during the school year and that is a sacred trust.
“It’s our job not just to educate, but to keep safe and to provide that safe space, and we’re going to continue to speak for what it takes to make sure that our young people are able to continue to be who they are without fear, without violence, without repercussions,” McDonald said.
Saskatchewan isn’t the only province enacting policies like this. New Brunswick was the first province to do so, with Ontario also recently doing something similar.
McDonald has been an activist for more than 30 years, and said he’s still fighting the same battles as when he was a teenager.
“It’s disheartening,” he said. “However, the fact is that there are still people showing up is what keeps us going.”
The government has stood steadfastly behind the policy changes with Premier Scott Moe sighting an Angus Reid poll showing support for a parent’s right to know about gender identification in classrooms. McDonald noted that the by-election in Lumsden-Morse where the Saskatchewan United Party made inroads might have hastened the changes.
“I think that by-election down south got them spooked. I think they got spooked that they’re losing their voters and well, this is a response to the fact that they saw votes going away from them and to something you a further right,” McDonald said. “It’s part and parcel of what we’ve come to expect from them.
“It’s sad that we’re still fighting this fight,” he added.
The night opened with a Prayer by Elder Liz Settee, who works with students across the city in her many roles.
Speeches included McDonald, Cavalry United Church Minister Nora Vedress and organizer and teacher Troy Parenteau. A youth who was going to speak had nerves because of the size of the crowd and chose to have Parenteau speak for them.
Vedress spoke both as a Minister and as a parent. The United Church of Canada is an affirming place of worship and Vedress explained the practices to the crowd.
After the demonstration, there was a group photo in front of the office.
Demonstrators went onto 15th Street and received honks of support.
Saskatchewan Pro-Life Association offers support for new pronoun policy
The Saskatchewan Pro-Life Association (SPLA) released a statement on Thursday commending the province for the new consent policy, which was announced on Aug. 22.
In a press release issued Thursday afternoon, association president Frances Stang said the policy restores the rights of children and youth to be protected by their parents.
“We are grateful that Minister Duncan listened to parents regarding their concerns not only about gender and sexual diversity policies, but about sexually explicit materials being presented to students in Saskatchewan schools,” Stang said in the press release. “Respecting parents as primary caregivers for their children and recognizing that parents are the strongest advocates for their children is something that should never be in question.”
Although the SPLA supported the decision, Stang called on the government to “do more to protect minor youths.” He said 16-year-olds are still minors who cannot vote and need parental permission for many services and medical procedures. Instead, the SPLA wants the policy’s age of consent raised to 18.
“How can it be a good thing for a minor child to step onto the transgender track leading to medical and surgical interventions without a parent’s consent?” Stand said in the press release. “How can we allow this for young people who are not even allowed to vote, whose brains will continue to develop into their mid-20s? It is only reasonable to reflect this legal and developmental reality in our legislation.”
The SPLA has also called on the government to permanently ban ARC and SOGI from Saskatchewan schools for “demonstrating a distinct bias in the sexual health arena.”