‘Life or death’: LGBTQ2 people warn of dangers of school pronoun policy changes – National

As debate continues over policies requiring parental consent for youth under 16 to change their name or preferred pronouns in certain schools, members of Canada’s LGBTQ2 community say such legislation could put some at risk. risks of abuse, hara*sment or even homelessness.

These concerns come as Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have recently implemented such laws.

When asked earlier this week if Ontario would implement similar policies, the province’s education minister said parents should be ‘fully involved’ in ‘life-changing’ decisions. of their children.

But some LGBTQ2 youth say it’s not always an easy conversation to have.

Searlait Finley, a 19-year-old girl who recently graduated from high school in Saskatoon, says that while she had a positive experience coming out to her own parents, not everyone did not receive this welcome.

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“I saw it in several situations with my closest friends. When they go out or when they are forced to leave, it can completely turn your life upside down and almost ruin it if you can’t get back on your feet,” she explained.

“When parents don’t accept, they can then be verbally and physically, or just emotionally, abusive towards their child. And even at that age too, when you are 16 or 17, you can be expelled.

According to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness — in collaboration with A Way Home Canada, a coalition working to reinvent solutions to youth homelessness — LGBTQ2 youth are overrepresented among homeless youth, with approximately 40 percent hundred of this age group identifying as such.

Additionally, a book published by the two organizations in 2017 reveals that LGBTQ2 youth are more likely to report being homeless or “on the streets” due to an “inability to get along with their parents, compared to cisgender youth.” heteros****ls”.

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What led to the policy changes

Saskatchewan was the most recent province to change its policy regarding the use of pronouns and name changes. In August, it began requiring teachers to first seek permission from the parents of such students.

The provincial government says the change stems from parental concerns and a desire to apply a uniform policy across all school divisions.

However, in an August by-election in the riding of Lumsden-Morse, the governing Saskatchewan Party retained the riding, but lost almost 20 percent of its support from previous provincial elections to the United Party. of Saskatchewan, which was campaigning on the issue of “parental rights”. », a subject that has often been at the heart of these policies.

New Brunswick faced an outcry when Premier Blaine Higgs changed the province’s policy in June this year, which previously required teachers to use a student’s preferred pronouns and nouns.

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But following a scathing report from the province’s Child and Youth Advocate, which warned that the changes risked violating children’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the province so that psychologists, social workers and other school professionals do not need parental consent, even as it doubled down on other core elements of its policy.

Make decisions “on their own schedule”

Being 19 and graduating, Finley won’t be affected by this policy change, but she says that, in her own experience and that of her friends in the LGBTQ2 community, such policies won’t help young people.

“It can’t really do any good, especially to the child himself,” she said. “It can cause a lot of stress and possible suicides, especially among young trans people, which it would affect much more in terms of, for example, changing your name.”

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Finley added that she lost a friend who died to a “lack of family support and emotional abuse that led them to take their own lives.”

In 2018, a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that transgender youth able to use their preferred names and pronouns reported a 34 percent drop in suicidal thoughts and a 65 percent decrease in suicide attempts.

Finley urged parents to be more accepting of who their child is, as it can create a better relationship by walking their child’s journey with them.

“Instead of completely avoiding the idea that they change the least bit, you would be able to get to know your child better.», she says.

Jaime Sadgrove, of the Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity, said opposing the policies is not about stopping parents from getting involved in their children’s lives.

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“I think it’s really important for parents to be involved in decisions about their children and how they identify,” said Sadgrove, who identifies as non-binary.

“It’s also important that children are able to make these decisions on their own schedule.”

They added that there could be many factors explaining why the child is not ready to tell his parents.

“If a young person is not necessarily ready to tell a parent about this name change, they should ask themselves why, and ensure that there are safe environments where young people can explore their identity without having to think about repercussions at home.

Teachers and other school professionals also sometimes become someone LGBTQ2 young people can talk to when they don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents, said Lyra Evans, chair of the district school board of Ottawa-Carleton, to PKBNEWS.

Evans, who identifies as a transgender woman, said it was important to have these ‘trusted adults’ but that these policies in turn take away that resource they could have turned to at school. .

She added that students who might be looking for mental health support or someone who can make sure they feel safe and supported will no longer be able to get that support.

“These kinds of conversations can’t happen if you can’t talk to any adults in your life,” she said.

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“It’s going to have a negative impact on mental health rates, it’s going to have a negative impact on suicide rates… It’s going to have real-world implications if these kinds of policies are adopted. »

One of the biggest problems with the policies in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan is that they could mean one less place for LGBTQ2 people to find safety, says Alex Abramovich, a scientist at the Policy Research Institute. in mental health at CAMH.

Abramovich, who is also an a*sistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said the shelter system and health care facilities are two places that aren’t always considered safe for people. LGBTQ2 youth, and that these policies could add schools. to this list of hazardous areas.

“Everyone should be able to go to school freely and be who they are without having that extra stress, that kind of extra burden of not being able to just be themselves, carry the name they carry, or go to school. school. by the pronouns you identify with,” he told PKBNEWS.

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Abramovich added that while in an “ideal world” parents would support the child as they are — which he says is essential to the health and well-being of LGBTQ2 youth — not everyone comes lack of a safe and supportive home environment and family rejection can have a lasting negative impact on a child’s life.

“Identity-based family conflict resulting from a youth identifying as LGBTQ is actually a major driver of youth homelessness in Canada and around the world,” Abramovich, who is also Canada’s research on homelessness and the mental health of 2SLGBTQ+ youth.

“This kind of family support for 2SLGBTQ youth is often a life and death situation. »

For Anna Kinderwater, coming out to her family members has been a positive experience, but she is not coming out to her parents because of the firm beliefs she says she has between them.

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In the past, if there was something they didn’t like, “they had no problem cutting it out of their lives,” she said. In turn, it’s something she hopes won’t happen, but she’s preparing for it.

But Kinderwater would not face what some young LGBTQ2 people might face when they come out, as she is now 29, lives alone and has a stable job.

“I think people should really think about when they’re ok with these laws, not just thinking about them in their family and how they would react with their kids, but also thinking about the kids who don’t. have no one or who come from incredibly difficult homes,” Kinderwater said.

“Is it really worth doing something that could harm hundreds of children rather than having a difficult conversation and learning something that makes you uncomfortable?.”

with files from The Canadian Press

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