Families of trans kids, activists say they’re angered, scared, disgusted by Sask.’s pronoun law

“Disgusting” and “disappointing” are the words parents of transgender kids, trans youth and community activists used repeatedly to describe the Saskatchewan government’s Bill 137, which became law on Friday.

“I moved to Canada in 2007 from the U.K., and this isn’t what I thought I was moving to. This is really awful and scary. I thought we were in a progressive, safe community and province,” said Roberta Cain, the mother of a 15-year-old trans child.

“The anti-trans movement seems to be kicking off. It’s frightening.”

On Friday, the Saskatchewan Party government passed its Parents’ Bill of Rights, which requires consent from a parent or guardian “when a student requests that their preferred name, gender identity, and/or gender expression be used” at school.

Premier Scott Moe, speaking to reporters Friday afternoon, said the bill was about “providing parents the right — not the opportunity — to support their children in the formative years of their life.”

But Cain said the law tramples on trans kids’ human rights and would affect students like her son, Silas Cain, who came out as transgender to his teacher.

A teenage boy with green hair sits on a couch next to a woman in a red sweater.
Roberta Cain, right, says she worries about the future of her 15-year-old trans son, Silas Cain, left, in Saskatchewan. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

He says in 2018, when he was in Grade 6, he said he started going by a different name and is thankful to his teacher, who allowed him space to explore his gender identity without outing him to his parents — a safety many kids have now lost, he said.

“There really is so much at stake for the trans community as a whole… being forced to come out can be so traumatizing and life-threatening. Having a safe place to experiment is such an important thing,” said Silas.

“I am so hated for just existing and being who I am. So many younger kids who are finding out who they are and want to have a safe space are at such a risk because some people just don’t like us.”

His path could have looked very different if his teacher hadn’t provided that space for him, said Silas.

“This law is absolutely ridiculous and violating. How many more trans kids have to die before they realize that this isn’t OK?”

The new legislation “makes me very uncomfortable and concerned for Silas’s future here,” said Cain.

“It’s a disaster that I hope galvanizes people into looking more deeply at what’s really going on.”

‘This is none of the government’s business’: mother

Jessica Fraser and her son, Wilbur Braidek, 14, who is transgender, were among hundreds of people who rallied in Saskatoon against the province’s pronoun policy in August, when it was introduced.

“It’s called the Parents’ Bill of Rights [but] we don’t have rights as parents,” said Fraser.

“We have responsibilities to keep our kids safe and to teach them. We don’t have any right to control their identity.”

A smiling teenager and a woman stand in a crowd of people outside, holding a multicoloured transgender Pride flag.
Wilbur Braidek, 14, and his mother, Jessica Fraser, were among hundreds of concerned people who rallied in Saskatoon on Aug. 27 against the province’s proposed policies on sexual education and pronoun use in schools. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

Moe has previously defended the policy by saying it “has the strong support of a majority of Saskatchewan residents, in particular, Saskatchewan parents.”

Fraser disagrees, and accuses the Saskatchewan Party government of “pandering” to “right-wing voters.”

“This is none of the government’s business.”

Her longtime friend Meadow McLean, who is also a parent of a transgender teen, also thinks the legislation is a divisive politicization of children’s rights.

“Our kids are the ones that are suffering.… They’re being drawn into the political arena and feeling like they’re not safe,” she said. 

“Research says discussing these things saves lives and prevents suicide attempts and death by suicide. The fact that we’re taking that away is just an atrocity, really… It’s nauseating.”

Two women stand together on a sidewalk, facing the camera.
Fraser, left, and Meadow McLean, right, both have transgender children. The parents say their kids are worried about their safety and well-being, and that of their peers. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

McLean said it was a long road for her 16-year-old son, Kian to identify non-binary and eventually trans.

“He went through a destructive period of severe depression and self harm. It was a really dark period in our lives where I was checking if he was breathing at night.”

“Our kids are going to continue to navigate what is a really hard road ahead of them as trans youth and trans adults,” she said.

“We will start to get used to living in Saskatchewan, that is going backwards when most of the world’s moving forward.”

Law ‘transphobic at its core’: activist

Blake Tait, a trans activist in Saskatoon, said he had a rough time at home coming out as trans, and is thankful for the help he got from teachers before he came out.

“It was not a safe household. I was being degraded to the point of tears. I lost my sense of pride,” he said.

The 23-year-old said he knows trans kids who now worry about being kicked out of their homes. 

“They don’t have the choice anymore to stay safe,” Tait said, pointing to statistics that say a large percentage of homeless youth in Saskatchewan identify as LGBTQ.

“I’m angry. I’m embarrassed to be a person from Saskatchewan who is under this government.”

A man in an orange mesh dress.
Blake Tait, a trans activist and drag artist in Saskatoon, says the new law is transphobic and endangers children. (Submitted by Blake Tait)

Tait said the trans youth he has been checking in with are scared for themselves and their friends. His youngest sibling is trans and attending school.

He’s worried about the possibility of seeing more laws, like those recently introduced in several U.S. states that impose restrictions on everything from gender-affirming care for minors to bathroom use, identification, drag performances and education.

The new law in Saskatchewan “is transphobic at its core and endangers children,” he said. 

“That was proven by the courts and the Moe government still went through with it … using the notwithstanding clause to infringe upon trans rights.”

The provincial government invoked the notwithstanding clause to pass the law, after a judge granted an injunction pausing the policy’s implementation pending a full hearing.

A man in a blue suit stands and speaks in a legsislative chamber.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe speaks during a debate in the Saskatchewan legislature in Regina on Oct. 10, 2023. His government used the Charter’s notwithstanding clause to pass the legislation, which he said Friday is intended to give parents ‘the right — not the opportunity — to support their children in the formative years of their life.’ (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)

After it was introduced, the policy was challenged in court by the UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity.

Court of King’s Bench Justice Michael Megaw granted the injunction on Sept. 28, saying the policy could cause “irreparable harm,” but Moe announced later that day his government would use the notwithstanding clause — a provision that allows governments to override certain Charter rights for up to five years when passing legislation.

“I don’t understand why we even have courts when this government can just override what our courts and our experts are saying,” said Fran Forsberg, an activist and parent.

She organized the late August rally in Saskatoon and is shocked by how quickly the policy became a law that she called “very short-sighted.”

It’s “despicable that the government has been told … over and over again by experts in the field” about the potential harms of the bill, “and they have not taken this into consideration whatsoever,” she said.

A woman in a black tee.
Fran Forsberg, an activist and parent, helped organize the late August rally in Saskatoon. She says she’s shocked by how quickly the policy became the law. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

Several years ago, Forsberg — who said she has fostered over 250 kids in 40 years, including trans kids — filed a successful human rights complaint against the Saskatchewan government, arguing for the right to have gender markers removed from identification.

She is now part of another human rights complaint with 22 families against the Saskatchewan government’s new law.

She notes a section of the legislation against “any claim for loss or damage resulting from the enactment or implementation” of the parental consent policy.

“The clause in the law that they can’t be held responsible if a child is hurt or damaged emotionally or physically by this is just irresponsible,” she said. 

“I can’t even fathom what the government is thinking by doing this. It’s so ludicrous.”

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