Q&A: PA Pride’s Chelsea Bleau on gender identity, the province’s pronoun policy and sex education

Chelsea Bleau is the chair of Prince Albert Pride. -- Photo by All My Relations Photography

The Saskatchewan government wants to implement a policy that would include parents when their children wish to change how they identify in school, even saying it will use the notwithstanding clause to put the policy into action. This has sparked controversy across the province, including the national 1 Million March 4 Children. Local residents argued that exposing kids to LGBTQ+ topics and sexual education creates confusion and leads to child grooming.

Prince Albert Pride’s Chelsea Bleau sat down with the Daily Herald to discuss their personal story and stance on the argument.

Please note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Tell us about how you identify and when you knew you didn’t fit into that societal norm when it comes to gender.

A: I knew very early on that I was different. Right now, I identify as bisexual and I identify as gender queer. Gender queer is like an umbrella term that is basically just I don’t conform to hardline society gender norms. I also really relate with non-binary and I also really relate with gender fluid. Non-binary is also kind of an umbrella term. It’s basically just saying I’m not a computer, I’m not ones and zeros, I’m so much more than that. I kind of see it more as a philosophy as well as an identity. Gender fluid, for me, is the way I express my gender changes from day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month. I wear a lot of guys clothes, I wear a lot of girls clothes. I have really short hair. I shaved my head again this year for the third time in my life and I wear wigs sometimes. Some days I just feel completely different in how I want to express my gender and how I want to perform my gender in front of certain people.

When I first came out as bisexual, I was 12 years old and I came out to my entire class because I was a really awkward, oversharing kid. Then I came out to my parent as well and all of my friends and I was just very, very sure of myself. The gender identity thing I feel is a bit different. I feel like it has changed over time and I’m not so sure that it might change in the future.

Q: How did others respond to you coming out?

A: In school, it was pretty bad. I was called slurs a lot and I also had other friends who also identified as bisexual and gay, and so we were kind of a part of this group of people who were relentlessly bullied. I had a couple friends who actually moved away from the town and even left the entire province because the bullying was so bad. The one particular experience that I had starting in Grade 3 was a lot of my classmates made up this game called the Chelsea game during recess, where it was like tag but I was always ‘it.’ There was no such thing as cooties at our school, it was Chelsea germs.

Q: How did you feel when the province announced it wanted to implement a policy requiring parental consent for youth under 16 years old to use a different name or pronoun at school?

A: It was extremely triggering, especially because I didn’t personally experience the horribleness from my parent growing up when I came out. My parent wasn’t totally in agreeance with it, but she wasn’t hateful towards it. I did have friends with parents where if that did happen to them, if they were outed to their parents with pronouns or their gender identity or their sexual orientation, they would be at very high risk of physical violence and emotional abuse.

Q: A judge has now granted an injunction, which halts the policy until it’s argued in court. What do you hope comes of this?

A: I feel like my biggest hope is that the federal government denounces it. I’m very unhopeful about it. It’s very scary and I feel very pessimistic about it, but I’m trying my best to not be. I’m trying my best to be hopeful and still stand strong. I think (the injunction) was a great thing not even just for the safety, because safety of kids is what’s most important right now. Logically, the policy just doesn’t make sense. It’s the logical and justified decision to put in an injunction and really put in thought and research to see if this is appropriate.

Q: UR Pride is arguing that the policy could out youth and that it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the government says that parents should be involved in these decisions, such as pronoun changes – where do you stand on the government’s side of the argument?

A: I think about that a lot. I can see the side of a parent who is scared and may have a lot of misinformation about the queer community. When you have that misinformation and horrible stigma towards queer people, although it’s not their intention of hating, they are clearly still hating and they are clearly still putting their child at risk.

Their argument is that the queer community is indoctrinating their kids, when the true indoctrination is not being aware and not being educated on the history of the hatefulness towards the queer community for decades in Canada. The fruit machine, which was in the ‘50s and ‘60s, (is) where somebody would go into this machine and be shown gay porn. If their eyes dilated, then they would be seen as gay or a pervert, whatever, and they would be completely banned from any civil service, they would be banned from being in the RCMP and they would be banned from being in the military.

When they argue that bringing more awareness to queer issues and gender identity is indoctrination, it’s just not, because it’s such a small amount of time where we’ve finally made this progress and finally brought more awareness to these identities and the issues that these marginalized people face. I can still have empathy for parents who are scared, but I cannot have empathy with parents who deliberately put their children, and other children who they don’t even know in the province, at risk.

Q: Had this policy been implemented when you were this age, how would it have impacted you?

A: For me, I was a very outspoken kid who was sure of themselves at a young age and that might be the minority, I guess, of queer people. If I did have the right terminology to be like ‘Oh my god, I am non-binary,’ I would definitely, definitely have been sure of that as soon as I learned more about the term.

It would have caused conflict in school; it would have caused conflict with my teachers; it would have caused conflict at home with my family; it definitely would have caused conflict with my church community. That conflict causes so much stress to a kid and I already had the stress of knowing that I was bisexual, so to kind of add to that with gender identity would have been so detrimental to my mental health, which was already awful at the time.

Q: The topic of education on gender diversity and sexuality has also brought forward the conversation on sex education. You’ve previously said this is creating a stigma for LGBTQ+ people, how is it impacting the public’s views on gender diversity?

A: Gender identity shouldn’t be seen as sexual education. I feel like sexual education is seen by a lot of people as they’re teaching kids how to do sexual acts. Teachers do use sex ed as an all encompassing term to teach about this sort of stuff. I said in our last interview that teaching consent is really important and teaching about different family structures is important – some people have single parents; some people are raised by their grandparents; some people are adopted, etc. That can be seen as sex ed, comprehensive sex ed, for kids at a young age even though it doesn’t involve actual sex education, which involves teaching about condoms and stuff like that.

Maybe, in a way, saying sex ed confuses people to think gender identity is sexual, when it’s not. It’s so much more philosophical than that and it can even be seen as spiritual for some people. These identities are not sexual identities, they’re identities for a whole person and so many different aspects of that person and not just sex. Those stigmas are literally the root of all of this discrimination, like seeing these identities as perverse.

Q: What do you think the future holds when it comes to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people?

A: The potential is kind of limitless because so many people have so many great ideas, and we have so many great leaders in our community who are amazing advocates for creating safe spaces, but it all depends on if we have enough energy to advocate for that. When we get hit with these hateful things, it brings our energy way down. 

Especially in rural communities where these people are constantly getting hate, of course they don’t want to counter-protest. It’s exhausting; it’s emotionally taxing; it makes it so difficult to fight against it. Whereas in these bigger city centres, these people are extremely empowered by having the unity that they have. In the prairie provinces, we’re getting so hit, so hard. 

I feel like that creates a domino effect for all queer-based organizations and we’ve been feeling that, I think, for the past few years. There’s huge budget cuts for these organizations, people don’t have the energy to volunteer and we’re experiencing lateral violence, for example, in our own communities. It really has to be at least just one person, like UR Pride, giving everyone hope to keep on fighting. It really helps people to see the future of the progress that we could potentially make because if UR Pride is strong enough to fight against this, then all of us are.