Opponents of Alberta's proposals for transgender youth protest in weekend rallies

EDMONTON — Groups opposed to Alberta’s planned policies around transgender youth held rallies in Calgary and Edmonton over the weekend, with many of the attendees warning the plans will out trans kids and put their lives in jeopardy.

Seventeen−year−old Jaidyn Wolf, who travelled from Red Deer to a rally at the provincial legislature in Edmonton on Sunday, said he’s had trans friends die by suicide and he wants to speak out for other trans youth who don’t have support at home.

"I started advocating at my school and it took getting the cops involved to stop the harassment that was caused by me and my friends being outwardly trans and gay at our school," Wolf said.

The new rules proposed by the province’s United Conservative government include restrictions on youth changing their names or pronouns at school and getting hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery.

Premier Danielle Smith has said the changes are to protect children from the consequences of choices they may later regret, and are also to preserve the role of parents.

At a rally outside Calgary’s city hall on Saturday, former mayor Naheed Nenshi called the video message in which Smith announced the moves "cruelty," "inhumane" and "un−Albertan."

Nenshi told the crowd that he’d reassured a high school student last year that they were safe living in Alberta, but he doesn’t feel that way after hearing Smith’s policy announcement. Now he said he hates that he was wrong.

"Premier Smith, I want you to understand that votes aren’t worth a few dead kids," Nenshi said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized the proposed policies last week as well, calling them the "most anti−LGBT of anywhere in the country."

Smith has said the fall sitting of the legislature would bring a ban on gender reassignment surgery for those 17 and under. There would be no puberty blockers or hormone therapies for the purposes of such surgery for anyone 15 and under, unless they’ve already begun such procedures.

Parental consent would be required for students 15 and under who want to change their names or pronouns at school. Students 16 and 17 would not need consent, but their parents would have to be notified.

And the province would clamp down on transgender female athletes competing in women’s and girls’ sports.

Carrie Townsend, who identifies as a "non−binary transgender" person, attended the Edmonton rally Sunday and said the policy announcement triggered feelings of grief and anger.

Townsend, who grew up in Spruce Grove, west of Edmonton, said being a trans kid in the 1990s meant facing homophobia and queer phobia that they don’t want kids to have to face anymore.

"I remember the silence around trans identity and queer identity, and I am here hopefully to fight so other children don’t have to go through the same," Townsend said.

New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have also enacted policies for young people questioning their gender, bringing in rules that require students 16 and younger to have parental permission to change their names or pronouns at school.

Alberta says the current required age for genital reconstruction surgery is 18 and the required age for surgery on masculinization of the torso is 16.

A court challenge in Alberta has already been promised by two LGBTQ rights advocacy groups. Smith has not ruled out using the notwithstanding clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to uphold the plans.

Smith has also said parents would have to be notified and give consent for their children to be taught about gender identity, human sexuality and sexual orientation. Third−party resource materials used to teach these subjects from kindergarten through Grade 12 would have to be approved by the Education Ministry

Many people at the rallies on the weekend referred to Smith by her first name, Marlaina, instead of Danielle, which is her middle name.

Chris Hepburn, who is trans−masculine and attended the Edmonton rally, argued it’s hypocritical of Smith to choose her name while denying trans kids the same opportunity.

"This legislation is literally going to cause children to die," Hepburn said.

"My life was really hard. I would have given my left arm for these therapies like puberty blockers and things like that, that kids now should have access to.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2024.

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

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