A group of Jasper students took 30 minutes to walk out from classes on Wednesday morning to protest Premier Danielle Smith’s proposed policy changes affecting youth who identify as transgender.
The mid-school-week crowd of approximately 40 people included several parents, teachers and other concerned supporters, several of whom carried rainbow pride and transgender pride banners and flags with phrases such as “You can’t get rid of us,” “Trans rights are human rights” and “Born this way”.
“Today, we walk in solidarity with our trans youth. Let's remember that every step we take today is a stride against this government and their archaic ideology,” said Jasper Pride co-chair Lynn Wannop, who also identified as a proud parent.
“Let's walk with courage, speak with conviction, and stand up for what's right. Your voices matter. You our future, and today, let your voices echo the call for change. We walk out today to let Danielle Smith know we're not going to stand down.”
Under these proposals, gender-affirming surgeries for youth under 18 will be prohibited, as will the use of hormone therapy for those under 16.
For minors aged 16 and 17, hormone therapy will require the parent and physician approval.
For children under 16, parental consent will be required to change their preferred name or pronouns in school, and parents will be notified if youth aged 16 or 17 change their preferred name or pronouns.
“Making permanent and irreversible decisions regarding one’s biological sex while still a youth can severely limit that child’s choices in the future,” Premier Smith said during her video statement released on Jan. 31.
“Prematurely encouraging or enabling children to alter their very biology or natural growth, no matter how well-intentioned and sincere, poses a risk to that child’s future that I, as Premier, am not comfortable with permitting in our province.”
Transgender youth already face immense challenges and these discriminatory policies present a misguided and fundamentally unjust attack on them, said teacher and Jasper Pride board member Mollie Lalonde Lynch.
“These policies will only add to their burden by denying them their rights and access to essential health care and educational support that they deserve,” she said.
By extension, parents and teachers become further burdened as their duties involve advocating for the rights and dignity of their children and students, respectively, she said.
“Developing a policy that could put us in a position to have to go against our professional judgment and put a child in danger is undermining the teaching profession and placing another impossible barrier on an already marginalized group.”
In a prepared statement emailed to the Fitzhugh, the superintendent of the Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD) said that the school division is proud to have positive relationships with parents as they all strive to launch successful, contributing young citizens who value the diverse individuals within their communities.
“When students are struggling or curious about something, we encourage them to connect with a trusted adult in the school. Those adults include teachers, administrators, the Family School Liaison counselor, and our Wellness Navigator,” said Carolyn Lewis.
“The Board of Trustees for GYPSD will continue to ensure students feel safe, welcomed, cared for, and respected, and they can continue to seek support or discuss an issue that is troubling them without fear of judgment or shame.”
There is more to fear than merely judgment and shame, said Dani Yarkowsky-Kerr, grade 12 student at Jasper Junior/Senior High School and a member of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).
“I've had people come up to me and just express how concerned they are for their safety. Their parents are being called about names they've already been using and that's outing them essentially, which can put a lot of kids into a really unsafe position,” they said.
“I think that something important to understand is when our premier, Marlaina Danielle Smith, says she wants kids to have these safe, open conversations with their parents, a lot of their households may not necessarily be a safe space (or place that can be), and their only place where they're having their name and pronouns used is at school. With trans youth suicide rates already so high, just putting them in the spotlight like this is, in my opinion, completely unacceptable.”
The move comes off as unnecessary targeting of a vulnerable community, Yarkowsky-Kerr said, “especially when there's a lot of other things happening in our community that the energy could be better directed.”
The Jasper walkout echoed similar events held at other schools across the province. One walkout in Edmonton saw hundreds in attendance, as reported in other media.
“We understand that there are a diverse range of opinions, and that's okay. It's important to have these kinds of conversations again as we move forward over the next few months,” said Minister of Education Demetrios Nicolaides when asked about whether having such large demonstrations gave the government pause on whether or not it should move forward.
“Our priority will be to consult and engage more with our partners to ensure that these policies are implemented in the most efficient manner possible.”