Discussions around the trans community in Saskatchewan sparked a lot of intolerance and outcry early on in 2023, and community groups have been working to combat it the whole way through.
For many, the debate started when unconfirmed reports started spreading of a person with male anatomy in the female changeroom at the Shaw Centre in Saskatoon in March.
For others, that discussion started when former education minister Dustin Duncan announced what is known as the pronoun policy in August.
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j skelton, assistant professor of queer studies in education at the University of Regina, looking back at 2023, said the biggest concerns the trans community was facing were trans-competent health care and Bill 137, which was what the pronoun policy became, requiring teachers to contact parents if kids under the age of 16 want to go by a different name for gender reasons or different pronouns.
“So if you’re a non-trans student who wants to go by a different name that’s fine, but if you’re a student who’s choosing a different name for gender reasons, they want to tell your parents first,” skelton said.
skelton said it was a problem for kids under the age of 16, but also for anyone who happens to be trans in the province.
“Our premier has been saying in the legislature he’s very comfortable bullying young trans people, and when he says he’s comfortable bullying, it means other people become comfortable bullying trans people as well,” skelton said.
skelton has heard from both trans students and adults that there is an increase in bullying.
It’s not too late to repeal legislation, skelton noted.
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skelton says trans people already face other barriers, pointing to other areas like housing and employment.
“Transphobia is deeply baked into our culture, and it means that we encounter bias and stigma in education, in employment, in housing, in accessing medical care.”
skelton said there are a lot of untruths around trans people, saying there isn’t a mandate around forcing other people to transition and that children are not accessing transitional surgery.
“And it feels really important to say that’s not happening and when people get older and they are accessing surgery, there are lengthy processes around that. It’s not a quick, easy, ‘Let’s head down to the doctor and get a surgery.’”
skelton took issue with the use of the notwithstanding clause to push through the legislation, saying that human rights are interconnected and that choosing not to respect one set of human rights weakens all others.
In September, the province was taken to court by UR Pride, which was represented by Egale Canada.
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An injunction was placed on the pronoun policy, which caused the province to use the notwithstanding clause and bring the legislature back early.
“And we say that anybody’s human rights are revocable, we could pull them away. It makes all of us less safe,” skelton said.
skelton said when we build communities that have less transphobia or no transphobia, we create conditions for trans people to thrive and for others to thrive as well.
Silas Cain, a Saskatoon resident part of the trans community, said education right now is top of mind, adding that it’s important for people to understand the trans community.
He said they don’t fully understand what it’s like to be cis-gender and said it’s the same thing with cis-gender people trying to understand what it’s like to be trans.
Cain said it was also important to have their rights and freedoms and for their existence to stop being politicized.
“Just being able to exist, like exist comfortably without our lives being made into political points,” Cain said.
Cain said it’s fine to not know things and be curious and ask questions.
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“Just respect people, know that everyone has different stories and journeys that they are going through.”
Roberta Cain, Silas’s mother, said there is a lack of understanding and a lot of misinformation making the rounds about trans people.
“I think people need to be educated and a bit more open-minded to accept that they’ve got things to learn,” Roberta said.
She said that’s a difficult thing to achieve, saying it can become a very dangerous and unsafe situation if they don’t educate where they can.
Roberta said there are many different kinds of people in the world and everyone should be accepted and respected.
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She looked at something like Bill 137, saying she doesn’t see the province doing anything to enforce it.
“It’s just a political game to them.”
Roberta said this bill is leaving teachers and kids in horrible situations, and not allowing sexual health organizations to present in classrooms has huge ramifications for students going forward, describing it as a downward spiral.
“They’re not going to have that, so they’re going to struggle unnecessarily. And others won’t learn about different people and to be accepting.”
Third-party sexual health organizations were barred from presenting in schools as part of the initial pronoun policy announcement, with only teachers and Saskatchewan Health Authority representatives able to offer that kind of information to students.
She said there are a bunch of resources and materials out there for people to educate themselves, and it’s not just the children who can learn about this, but families as a whole.
Premier Scott Moe had said in the past that parents and MLAs were consulted about the Parent’s Bill of Rights, or Bill 137, adding that they were looking at things like rapid access counselling services.
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The province had said it received complaints from parents regarding things like sexual health coverage in schools.
The Saskatchewan government received 18 official complaints over the summer before it implemented a rule that prevents children under 16 from changing their names or pronouns at school without parental consent.
The complaints, obtained by The Canadian Press through access-to-information legislation, contain emails and letters from June and July showing people had concerns with pronouns, sexual education and Pride activities in school.
Most of the complainants urged the province to follow the New Brunswick government, which implemented parental consent over pronouns before Saskatchewan did.
One complainant wrote that they felt their child could be easily manipulated, and that there should be a “God week” if there is a “Pride week.”
Another said they pulled their child from Pride activities and wished the school would let other parents know about the option to do so.
“Parents and guardians have a right to know what is being taught in their children’s school,” Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill said in a statement. “The Parents’ Bill of Rights is an inclusionary policy that ensures that parents are at the forefront of every important decision in their child’s life.”
Cockrill says he expects all school divisions to abide by the legislation.
Moe said the policy is first and foremost about involving parents in their children’s lives.
“This is not about targeting anyone in any way,” Moe said. “This is about building other supports and providing parents a right to be involved in their child’s education and life.”
He said these new policies, particularly the pronouns and name policy, would protect parental rights, which are not included in the Charter, but which he says are important to Saskatchewan residents nonetheless.
— with files from Andrew Benson, Brooke Kruger and The Canadian Press
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