Content warning: This article discusses homophobia, transphobia, self-harm, and suicide. 

On January 31, Alberta’s Premier Danielle Smith released a video on her social media accounts. Over seven minutes and 28 seconds, she detailed a set of proposed policies that attack the rights of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming youth. Spanning from healthcare to education to sports, the policies are violently transphobic and queerphobic.

Doctors, federal politicians, and civil society organizations criticized the proposal almost immediately. Two Mount Royal University professors published an article in The Conversation, labelling Smith’s ideas “the most extensive, draconian and unbalanced proposals of any conservative province to date.”

Policies based on misinformation

2SLGBTQIA+ people in Canada are already more likely to experience sexual assault, employment discrimination, and other forms of violence than cisgender and heterosexual individuals. The proposed policies would not only restrict trans youth but also exacerbate existing transphobia in Alberta, as Premier Smith is justifying the policies with misinformation.

For instance, one policy would impose restrictions on adolescents’ access to puberty blockers. Smith outlined: “For children aged 15 and under, puberty blockers and hormone therapy for the purpose of gender reassignment or affirmation will not be permitted, with the exception of those who’ve already commenced their treatment at this time.”

Smith claimed there is a need to prevent “irreversible” harm when children are not mature enough to make their own medical decisions.

Puberty blockers are medications that temporarily halt the production of sex hormones to pause puberty. They allow young trans and gender non-conforming people to delay puberty and consider their options. While Smith left the impression that puberty blockers are irreversible, a 2020 review of academic literature on them affirms the effects are largely reversible and the medications have few side effects. 

In contrast, puberty into a body that is misaligned with one’s gender is irreversible due to the development of secondary sex characteristics. According to Professor Travers at Simon Fraser University, “Most children who have been assigned female at birth and take hormone blockers will not need top surgery. Meanwhile, children who have been assigned male at birth and take hormone blockers won’t need to later mitigate or reverse characteristics spurred by puberty: a deeper voice, facial hair, and a visible Adam’s apple and other results of male puberty that cannot be reversed.”

Access to puberty blockers is lifesaving. Health researchers have documented that they decrease suicidality and improve mental health. Pediatric medical practitioners have voiced concern that barriers to care will put trans youth at greater risk of self-harm and suicide.

From lifesaving medical care to education and sports

Other aspects of Alberta’s proposed policies could have similar, violent ramifications. 

Smith promised to ban top and bottom gender reassignment surgeries for anyone aged 17 or under. Anyone aged 15 or under will require parental consent to alter their name or pronouns in school, and parents will be notified of any name or pronoun changes for those aged 16 and 17. The proposal will also require parental opt-ins for any education about gender identity, sexual orientation, or human sexuality in K–12 classes. Further, the proposal seeks to prevent trans women from participating in female sports leagues.

Professors Corinne Mason and Leah Hamilton at Mount Royal University, in their aforementioned article in The Conversation, explain that Smith’s justifications for these policies spread misinformation and ignore expert opinions. Bottom surgeries for gender reassignment in Alberta are already restricted to adults. Premier Smith’s suggestion that there are risks associated with inclusion and affirmation for trans kids in school is false. Education experts agree that robust sexual education is necessary to protect youth from abuse. Contrary to Smith’s claims, many scientists have found that trans women and girls have no biological “competitive advantage” in sports.

Each of these policies raises a unique set of risks and harms. Take, for example, the restrictions on pronoun and name changes. They would require school staff to out trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming adolescents to their parents when students alter their names or pronouns.

Smith suggested that cases in which parents reject their children are rare. This is not accurate. Many trans and queer youth face rejection by their families. They are at increased risk of homelessness, domestic abuse, and being put into foster care. The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on preventing suicide among 2SLGBTQIA+ young people, found that 35–39 per cent of trans and non-binary youth in the US will experience homelessness or housing instability. The situation in Canada is similar; 25–40 per cent of 2SLGBTQIA+ youth experience homelessness.

When family members are not accepting, schools may be among the only places trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming kids can express themselves. A 2018 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that every time trans youth can use their chosen names in one additional context, such as in school, it causes a 56 per cent decrease in suicidal behavior. However, the threat of being outed to one’s parents by school teachers or administrators could force many children to remain fully in the closet.

A far-reaching trend

Of course, these policies are proposed in Alberta — a province that might feel far from U of T. But, such policies are a growing trend in Canadian provinces and American states

Recently, both Saskatchewan and New Brunswick imposed policies restricting pronoun and name changes in schools. In September 2023, Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce was asked whether Ontario would follow suit. He responded that parents should be “fully involved” in their children’s “life changing” decisions. What is happening in Alberta can happen in Ontario.

This is unacceptable. Young people should not be demonized for who they are and forced to live in gender presentations misaligned with their identities. Alberta’s proposed policies are regressive and dangerous. They must be met across Canada with the outrage they deserve. 

Folx, it is time to get angry.

Amalie Wilkinson is a fourth-year student at University College studying international relations and peace, conflict and justice studies. Xe is a member of Climate Justice U of T and co-host of the Queers Hug Trees podcast.