A legal challenge to Saskatchewan’s new law requiring parental consent if children under 16 want to change their names or pronouns at school is back in court this week. New Brunswick enacted a similar measure last year, and other provinces are looking at doing the same.
Lawyers representing UR Pride, an LGBT group in Regina, say the rule discriminates against youth who aren’t able to come out to their families. The Saskatchewan and New Brunswick governments have said they made the changes after hearing from many parents that they want them.
Saskatchewan used the notwithstanding clause, a rarely used provision that lets governments override Charter rights for five years, to prevent the court challenge from proceeding.
The Canadian Press sent reporters across the country to talk to parents about the issue.
Krystle Wilpert, Calgary
The mother of a four- and seven-year-old said children should have the choice when they are that little.
“Even with their name, sometimes they shorten their given name,” she said. “If they are actually wanting to legally change it, then parents should be advised.
“When they are this little, if you want to be known as she, they, he, that’s part of their identity, I think, and figuring out what they prefer.
“If you want to legally change it when you’re of age, that’s a different story.”
Wilpert, who’s a teacher, said parents need to have strong relationships with their children.
“If the parents have a great relationship with the school and with their child, it probably wouldn’t be an issue.”
She said it would be awkward if Alberta were to bring in a similar policy to Saskatchewan.
“If you’re a classroom teacher, having to phone a parent to say, ‘Is it OK if I call your child they?’ It creates awkwardness and it doesn’t build that relationship that kids need to feel safe and secure when they are growing up.”
Nicolas Brizard, Montreal
The father of girls age three, five, 10 and 12, said he hadn’t previously thought about whether parents should be notified — or asked for their consent — if children want to change their name or pronouns at school.
He said it’s not something that has been the subject of widespread debate in Quebec.
Brizard said young people start really searching for their identity around the age of 14, but the idea that they could change their name or gender identity without parental permission before the age of 16 “is a bit difficult.”
Even if parental consent isn’t required, he said he thinks parents should be notified.
“They don’t always have the necessary tools to make these decisions by themselves,” Brizard said in French.
“Sometimes they’ve had bad experiences, sometimes good experiences, but it’s a major decision, so you need to have the necessary tools to reflect in order to make this change.”
Angela Campbell, Rothesay, N.B.
Campbell said her child was assigned female at birth, but is now gender fluid and uses the pronoun they.
“Once puberty hit, they started experiencing anxiety and depression,” said Campbell, whose child turns 20 this week.
“It took a long time to sort of get to the root of what was going on. It turned out to be gender identity was the root of the problem.”
She said her child found support from teachers and guidance counsellors at school, and is grateful they were there.
School and teachers offer a practice run for the real world in a safe space, and changes made by New Brunswick remove that, she said.
“It would be wonderful and very utopian of us to think that home is always the safest place for children to be able to go and have these conversations, but that’s not the reality.”
Jose Henriquez, Vancouver
The father said he would be supportive if one of his two sons wanted to use a different name or pronoun at school, but he would want to know about the change beforehand.
“It’s my child. You know, we don’t own our kids, but we raise them up in the way that we think is right,” said Henriquez, with his eight- and nine-year-old sons chatting together nearby.
“I think if they want to do something like that, they should come to the mom and dad first.”
That’s especially true for younger children, Henriquez said.
“When they’re really young like this, I don’t think they even know what they’re wanting,” he said.
“If these guys are older, and he says to me something like that, then I’ve got no choice, he can do what he wants.”
Still, Henriquez said he’d want to be the first person to have that talk with his child.
“As a good parent, you support them because they’re your child and you love them, you know, and you don’t outcast them.”
Jonathan Rambo, Toronto
The father of three strongly believes parental consent should be required before a student under 16 wishes to change their pronoun or gendered name.
He said children at that age aren’t developed enough to make those decisions for themselves.
“They still haven’t reached that maturity level to be changing names,” he said
Rambo has a daughter in Grade 10, a son in Grade 8, and a son in Grade 2 — all ages at which they are still very impressionable, he said.
“Like, my daughter, from my experience, she is still going through a whole bunch of friends,” he said.
“So if she gets with a group of friends, and they could say, ‘Oh let’s change our names,’ but later on she might outgrow that group of friends. It’s still not for sure if that’s what she’s going to want in the future. She’s still learning in life.”
Rambo said that even if parents aren’t required to give consent, they should at least be informed when a child decides to use a different name or pronoun at school.
“I would like to know if my daughter changes her name. I could be calling her Heather and her name is Mary the next day. I think that’s a big joke. Let kids be young, let them get used to their name.”
Amanda Stajniak, Glenavon, Sask.
Stajniak lives on a farm about 100 kilometres east of Regina and has children aged 11, nine, eight, four and two.
The mother said parents should be required to give consent if their children want to change their names or pronouns at school.
“I think parents should totally be involved, as much as possible in everything. I think it’s a good thing,” she said.
“If they are having any feelings, I want them to come to me first. They do spend a lot of time with the teachers, but I would hope that they would come to me first.”
Stajniak said in her community, everyone knows each other.
“It’s not much of a big deal in smaller towns,” she said.
“Everybody kind of knows everybody’s stuff. If there’s any kids that are going through anything, the kids come home and tell us about it.”
The mother said she didn’t think about pronouns or name changes before Saskatchewan implemented the parental consent requirement.
“I didn’t know someone could change their name at school. If my kids were being called something else, I would know, right?”
— By Colette Derworiz in Calgary, Jacob Serebrin in Montreal, Hina Alam in Fredericton, Brenna Owen in Vancouver, Alex Gheciu in Toronto and Jeremy Simes in Regina
The Canadian Press