Memphis Hartman didn’t want to be in front of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Tuesday morning, but the Grade 12 student felt it was important as a transgender teenager to have his voice heard.
Gates, fences, flashing lights and security greeted demonstrators and MLAs alike on Tuesday morning as the Saskatchewan Party plans to introduce legislation requiring children under 16 to have parental consent to change their name or the pronouns they use at school.
“The reasons why we have to gather like this are deplorable, and they represent really poorly on the behalf of our province,” said Hartman, 17.
Growing up, Hartman said he knew he was trans and transitioned when he was 10: “I have been trans since the day I could talk and that’s the truth about me.”
As Hartman introduced himself to the crowd, his father, Robert, shouted “that’s our son and we love him” eliciting cheers from the hundreds gathered.
Robert said supporting his son was not easy. “It was the most difficult thing we’ve ever done,” he said but his options were either to isolate Memphis or to offer support. Pushing his son away “was never an option.”
A small counter-rally occurred in front of the Legislative Building comprised of people in support of the legislation. At one point the smaller pro-legislation rally started to chant “leave our kids alone” only to be overpowered by the larger anti-legislation rally chanting “love not hate.”
Local and national unions had flags flying at the rally with several high school students, parents and citizens showing up to oppose the legislation and proposed use of the notwithstanding clause.
Memphis said the legislation coming forward will have a deleterious effect on his community, saying he fears “kids will lose their lives.”
As for his teachers, he said he was eternally grateful to them.
“When I was in elementary school, my teachers did the right thing by supporting me through my transition,” he said.
Premier Scott Moe said he is ready to invoke the notwithstanding clause, which allows governments to create laws that infringe or violate sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for a period of five years.
In a post made on X Tuesday morning Moe said through the debate around the legislation comes down to “Should parents be included in important decisions regarding your kids? Who do you trust to raise your kids?”
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) has pushed back against this notion, saying the province has used this as an opportunity to attack teachers and erode trust in public education.
Last month, a Regina Court of King’s Bench judge granted an injunction that paused the implementation of the policy. Lawyers representing UR Pride argued their case, that the policy could cause the outing or possible misgendering of students which would violate their Charter Rights.
Leader of the Opposition Carla Beck spoke at the rally saying “every single student in Saskatchewan schools should have the opportunity to have an education in a welcoming environment and let me say this clearly, that includes trans kids.”
During question period Beck said the government was going to do “irreparable harm to already vulnerable kids,” while Moe asked why the NDP believes parents should not be involved in the classroom.
Beck said “the premier is spewing nonsense” before talking about matters like the cost of living in the province.
Matt Love, NDP critic for education, said “of course we want parents involved” but said “this policy has been criticized loudly and widely by parents in this province,” adding that the Advocate for Children said it will likely infringe on the human rights of children.
Jeremy Cockrill, minister of education, said the government has heard from “tens of thousands of parents” in favour of the policy. He instead asked for the NDP to agree to debate the legislation on the day by voting in favour of it.
Love continued to use the words of Justice Michael Megaw’s decision ordering an injunction. Cockrill said Love kept coming back to “a couple of words” in Megaw’s decision, but those couple of words were “irreparable harm.”
Love asked for the government to release the letters and communications showing that level of support.
In late September when Moe said his party would use the notwithstanding clause STF president Samantha Becotte said in an interview the rhetoric from the province and the policy puts teachers in a difficult position.
“It attacks teachers, attacks teachers as professionals, it creates a narrative that teachers aren’t already doing these things, that they aren’t doing what’s in the best interest of students and that teachers aren’t to be trusted,” said Becotte at the time.
The policy, known as the “Use of Preferred First Name and Pronouns by Students,” requires school staff to have parental consent when a student under age 16 wants their “preferred name, gender identity, and/or gender expression” to be used. It will be debated on Thursday.