Policies involving the need for parental consent for teachers to use a student’s chosen pronouns in classrooms are being lauded by proponents as a crucial step to foster parental involvement in children’s lives. Contrarily, critics say such policies jeopardize the safety and rights of children, especially transgender and nonbinary students who may not wish to disclose their gender identities in their homes.
Expert opinions insinuate that the notion of “parental rights” in the context of this debate is not a black or white issue, but instead one of deep complexity. They warn against hastily introduced legislation that may pose severe repercussions on transgender and nonbinary children.
Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, the Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, criticizes the narrative of these policies. She argues that selling ‘parental rights’ as a political argument is a ploy that exploits parental involvement in children’s decisions to push forward anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. To Owusu-Akyeeah, youth autonomy and agency, particularly in self-expression and navigation of identity, cannot be overlooked. When children can express their identities safely, she argues, the risk of harm reduces drastically.
A 2018 study corroborates this, asserting that the ability to use preferred names and pronouns lead to a significant decrease in suicidal thoughts and attempts within transgender youth. Owusu-Akyeeah views the adoption of this political strategy as a device aimed at marginalizing children further.
In recent times, variations of the policy have been established in two provinces. The New Brunswick government, following a review, now stipulates parental consent for teachers to use different names or pronouns for students under 16. The Premier, Blaine Higgs, insists this policy champions parental rights.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has filed court action against portions of the policy, claiming that it contravenes both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial legislation in New Brunswick. Similarly, another policy introduced by Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is being legally challenged by UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity at the University of Regina, with Egale Canada, an LGBTQ+ rights advocating organization, serving as co-counsel.
Kerri Froc, an associate professor specializing in constitutional law at the University of New Brunswick, questions the approach of the provinces in implementing these policies. She believes the policies represent a discriminatory sledgehammer approach against transgender students, as opposed to a precise, scalpel-like policy application. She also emphasizes the necessity to balance these parental rights policies with the best interests of children.
The debate over such policies is not confined to provincial politics. At a recent Conservative party convention, delegates voted in favor of prohibiting medical and surgical interventions for gender-diverse and transgender people under the age of 18. While Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is yet to comment on this policy proposal’s inclusion in the party’s official platform, the topic remains a contentious one.
Owusu-Akyeeah highlights the public debate’s impact on children potentially affected, underscoring the societal issue of developing affirming child-parent relationships. In their absence, schools and friends often become the refuge for children to freely express their identities. Policies requiring parental involvement could, therefore, place children in a challenging situation.
In conclusion, Owusu-Akyeeah advocates firmly for supporting children in their journey of understanding their identities and how they present themselves, a vital accommodation for their well-being and growth.