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Dangerous Laws Targeting Transgender Youth in Alberta

By Sabina Bellisario-Giglio

News Editor


Via Canadian Press


Danielle Smith, Premier of Alberta, announced on January 31, 2024, a series  of policies directed at transgender youth that she plans to enact in the fall. In a video, Premier Smith claims that the “issues” she tackles “[pose] a risk to [a] child’s future that I, as Premier, am not comfortable with permitting in our province.” These new policy changes target transgender youth in both the medical and educational spheres. However, many human rights organizations in and around Alberta as well as experts are deeming these policies unconstitutional.


     These new policies looming in the medical field are attempting to put in place restrictions for transgender youth. These new policies will completely ban crucial transgender medical procedures, top and bottom gender reassignment surgery, for minors aged 17 and under. Medical treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapies that are directly used for the purpose of gender reassignment will also be banned for minors aged 15 and under. 


     The policies regarding education also directly impact the education surrounding LGBTQ+ topics as well as risk outing transgender children. Premier Smith has decided to update the policy whereby parents were able to opt out of lessons that address issues of gender identity, sexual orientation, or human sexuality. The update now requires that all parents abide by a new “opt-in” policy, meaning that they must give their formal consent every time an instructor decides to add these topics to their lessons and whether they permit their child’s to attend. The new pronoun policy will require children ages 15 and under to obtain parental consent to change their names or pronouns in an educational setting. Students aged 16 to 17 will not need parental consent but will have their parents notified if any changes are made to their name or pronouns. 


     She also announced a policy that would ban transgender women from competing in women’s sports leagues. The misinformation surrounding Smith’s claims about transgender women in sports was quickly debunked by the CEO of Canadian Women and Sport, Allison Sandmeyer-Graves. She told CBC that the proposed policy “isn’t backed by evidence and is out of step with national and international guidelines.” 


     After the announcement, many doctors and pediatricians were quick to condemn Smith’s decision to restrict and prolong these gender-affirming medical procedures. In an open letter to Albert’s Premier, the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) expressed their worry about the effects these policies will have on transgender youth going forward. They write, “When it comes to gender-affirming medical care, the current best evidence shows that younger age and earlier pubertal stage at the time of presentation has been associated with lower rates of mental health conditions.” The letter references a study conducted by the National Library of Medicine by which they concluded that delayed puberty and older age have shown signs of leaving transgender youth seeking gender-affirming care vulnerable to mental health conditions. 


     The letter was also quick to debunk certain statements from  Smith’s announcement video. The Premier categorizes puberty blockers as “irreversible”, a claim that is incorrect. CPS clarified that “Hormonal suppression is reversible and sex steroid production will resume if blockers are discontinued.” Dr. Sam Wong, the head of pediatrics in the Alberta Medical Association (AMA), and a co-writer of the letter, explains the issue further. In an interview with Global News, he clarifies, ”puberty blockers are useful to give patients extra time to think about what their decision is going to be over the next couple of years.” He emphasizes the importance of puberty blockers, explaining how they allow the patient to decide whether they will proceed with gender-affirming care, or stop their usage of the blockers and restart their puberty.


     The policies surrounding education also pose a great threat to LGBTQ+ students, especially transgender youth. Anti-trans laws are not uncommon, but the outcome always seems to be the same. Oklahoma, which already has in place many of the policies Smith wishes to enact, has recently caused an outcry due to the death of Nex Benedict, an indigenous, non-binary student. Nex was forced to use the girl’s bathroom at their school, as a result of Oklahoma’s bathroom policy and was then confronted by a group of girls who harassed and attacked them. The next day, they were found unresponsive in their home, which the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office later ruled a suicide. However, the report did not mention any trauma that was caused by the fight. Many protestors marched outside of the state capital carrying that signs that called for justice for Benedict, saying “It was not suicide.” 


     A letter signed by almost 400 national and local organizations, calling for the resignation of Ryan Walters, Oklahoma’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said that he “is responsible for fostering a culture of violence and hate against the 2SLGBTQI+ community in Oklahoma schools.” This statement could reign true for Danielle Smith, as many other leaders are calling out the dangers of her new policies, with the mayor of Calgary, Jyoti Gondek, calling it “an infringement on human rights.” 


     Despite the backlash, Smith stood by her decision the day after the announcement in a press release and said she wouldn’t be opposed to using the notwithstanding clause to dodge the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 


     A petition urging the Canadian and Alberta Human Rights Commission to safeguard the rights of transgender youth is only 500 signatures away from reaching its goal of 15,000 signatures. The petition, which is available on change.org, is called Safeguard Transgender Children’s Rights to Self Identity and Bodily Autonomy in Alberta.

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