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Following new education policies announced this week that will require Saskatchewan youth under 16 to get parental permission to change their names or pronouns in schools, and that ban outside groups from giving sex-ed presentations in class, many educators and advocates are speaking out against the changes.
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Fran Forsberg is one of the organizers of a rally set to take place Sunday afternoon at Saskatoon MLA Don Morgan’s office, where she and others will voice their opposition to the policies.
When Forsberg heard about the new policies on Tuesday, she recalled a conversation she had with now-Education Minister Dustin Duncan about rights and dignity for transgender people in Saskatchewan more than six years ago.
“He said to me that he was a 40-year-old from (Weyburn), so he didn’t really understand or know about all this,” she said. “And I said, in this day and age, where this information is so readily available, his kind of ignorance is not acceptable.
“Now, he’s had a lot of time to learn. And I’m older than him by 20 years. I learned about transgender people. I educated myself and I understand how important this issue is. What’s his excuse?”
Jolene Brown, who sits on the board of Prince Albert Pride, says these new policies are “harming more than helping, while pretending to help.” Prince Albert Pride is calling on the government to rescind Tuesday’s announcement.
“To me, this policy change is not positive,” said Brown. “It solves no existing problem. It just shackles teachers’ ability to help (and) all this is doing is removing resources. It’s putting a cage around teachers, and it’s putting a cage around kids, too. I just can’t imagine how a parent would want that.”
Forsberg says schools need to be a safe place for children to be themselves — whether or not they come from an accepting home.
“Being a foster parent, I’ve seen so many kids literally kicked out of their homes because of their sexual or gender diversity,” she said. “I’ve seen physical violence towards these children and youth.
“The government is saying this is for the safety and well-being of children and youth, but I think they’re just pandering to the far-right. It’s ridiculous, and it’s so backwards.”
Brenda Montgrand, who works as a school counsellor at Hector Thiboutot Community School in the village of Sandy Bay, says that especially in remote, isolated communities like hers schools need to be safe havens for LGBTQ2S+ youth.
“They hang out in the school, even after classes in the evening,” she said. “If I was doing something in the evening — even showing a movie and having a talk about it afterwards — they’ll stay for that. Because a lot of them don’t want to go home. It’s not comfortable there, or they may not feel safe. So it’s nice to have them here, and we don’t mind being there for them.”
Some of Montgrand’s gay, trans and two-spirit students have recently started a GSA. She says these students are “brave, and they want to do something,” and eager to learn more about their own identities and those of their friends.
“We want to be able to talk openly amongst each other,” she said. “We all need to be able to look and talk more openly. But we need more, in that area, for them to learn about what it is to live a gay life and to be more comfortable. And if these kids are getting treated differently because they’re changing how they want to be called, that’s going to have an effect on them.”
Forsberg also worries about how the changes to sex education in schools will affect the rates of STIs and unplanned pregnancies in Saskatchewan, which are already much higher than the national average.
“When we know better, we do better,” she said. “This education can do nothing but help kids make the right decisions for them. I know of nobody who has ever been harmed by too much education; quite the contrary.”
Forsberg says speakers at the rally on Sunday will include teachers, community advocates, and Saskatchewan NDP education critic Matt Love. She expects many more people from the community will turn out to voice their opposition, as well.
“I think there’s going to be an army there; I really do,” she said.
Saskatchewan School Boards Association calls for pause on new education policies
Sask. educators, advocates react to new policy on student name, pronoun changes
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