August 23, 2023
OUTSaskatoon Inc., as an organization, was founded to tirelessly work toward increasing the acceptance and visibility of Saskatchewan’s 2SLGBTQ+ people. The August 22, 2023 policy announcement by the province’s Minister of Education was very disappointing to our organization. What follows is OUTSaskatoon’s response to Education Minister Dustin Duncan’s announcement regarding new parental consent policies for Saskatchewan schools.
Schools must seek parent/guardian permission when changing the preferred name and pronouns used by students under the age of 16 in the school.
In 2022, the Canadian government celebrated the 5-year anniversary of an amendment to Canada’s Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code which established the legal authority to “counter discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression”. Despite this step, gender minorities in Canada remain at increased risk for a myriad of negative outcomes throughout their lifespan, including forced-gender conformity, suicide, sexual and physical violence, criminalization, and poor health outcomes. These negative outcomes were also reiterated by the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) in their position statement of June 2022. They stated how systemic barriers increase gender minority stress and disrupt mental health when human rights are violated. CPA appealed to policy makers and agencies to commit to protect gender diversity and human rights, which is a counter step taken by our Ministry of Education.
The intent of supporting students and parents and recognizing the important role that parents and guardians have in protecting and supporting their children as they grow and develop seem well intentioned but is not supportive of students who may be struggling as they question their own identity. If a school is a safe and supportive place for young people they will stay there and have a good chance of flourishing. If the education system is focused on keeping parents/guardians happy there will be more students struggling in, or leaving, the system. For some children, school may be the only safe space they have and this policy may force some children to come out to their families (who are not out to their families) in order to have their pronouns respected in school.
Parents/guardians must be informed about the sexual health education curriculum and have the option to decline their children's participation.
In July 2023, Saskatchewan’s health ministry shared some statistics regarding sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections in the province, noting the numbers are estimates based on preliminary data:
● There were 6,445 cases of chlamydia in 2022 and as of March 31, 2023, 1,770 cases
● There were 2,784 gonococcal infections in 2022 and 607 so far in 2023
● Looking at infectious syphilis, there were 2,059 cases in 2022 and 443 so far this year
● HIV, based on the diagnosis year, had 223 cases in 2022 and 68 so far in 2023
● And Hepatitis C, had 424 cases in 2022 and 108 in 2023 as of March 31, 2023
The Impacts of high-quality comprehensive sexual education include:
● Delayed initiation of sexual intercourse;
● Reduced sexual risk-taking;
● Increased condom use;
● Increased contraceptive use;
● Increased knowledge about sexuality, safer-sex behaviours, risks of pregnancy, HIV and other STIs; and
● Improved attitudes related to sexual and reproductive health (e.g. positive attitudes towards things like using condoms, seeking and getting sexual health care, nurturing healthy relationships, seeking consent, etc.)
With a spike in sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and Sexually Transmitted and Blood Borne Infections (STBBIs), sexual health is more important than ever. Sexual health education teaches what we as humans need to know regarding sexual health and is essential to gain the skills and knowledge needed to develop healthy behaviours and attitudes. Comprehensive, sound sexual health education is a human right all people are entitled to and is critical to enhance wellbeing. This policy denies this human right to young people whose parents may not support their identity.
Boards of education must immediately pause involvement with any third-party organization, such as ARC Foundation and the SOGI 1 2 3 Program, connected to sexual health education as the ministry undertakes review of educational resources to ensure alignment with curriculum outcomes. Only teachers, not outside third-parties, will be able to present sexual education materials in the classroom. This directive does not include professionals employed by government ministries or the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
Today’s teachers are more challenged than ever with large class sizes and increasing demands. As such, they often depend upon external agencies such as OUTSaskatoon. Just recently, in May and June of 2023, OUTSaskatoon had close to 100 requests from schools for training and education. Research has shown that well-planned and implemented sexual health education in schools works. Current information needs to be readily available both in and outside of schools. OUTSaskatoon encourages third party organizations to continue to build sexual health education materials for schools but for outside use as well, as there WILL be children looking for information outside of their schools.
When public policies serve political purposes rather than the well-being of children and youth, the costs can be high. As Harini Sivalingam, Director of the Equality Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) stated, “Today’s policy changes will make it more dangerous to be a 2SLGBTQIA+ student in Saskatchewan. The new policy violates the rights and dignity of 2SLGBTQ+ young people and is not in the best interest of students. We have seen all too often what happens when students are outed at home. Some unsupportive families have kicked their kids out of the house or resorted to physical violence.” Give young people the chance to explore their identity in a safe and supportive environment.
This message is more than worth repeating:
There have been and will continue to be many 2SLGBTQ+ children and youth who go through every educational system; many 2SLGBTQ+ teachers and family members work for and support these systems as well. We all know many people, wonderful, responsible and loving adults who happen to be queer, that went through every elementary and high school.
Whether children, youth, families and staff choose to stay closeted or eventually let their light shine, much of what shapes their sense of belonging and wellbeing happens within the school system. We encourage educational systems to not be a barrier but rather contribute to health and inclusion in this province. While all superintendents, principals, teachers and parents may have influence over the children, they cannot deny who they are.
With the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools directive given out earlier this year and now this policy, OUTSaskatoon wants to express its deep gratitude for those many dedicated and supportive teachers who work hard every day to make sure that every child, every student and every family is welcome within their schools. Policies can never extinguish the compassion and care that ensure children and youth are welcome, feel valued and can thrive at school.
Organizations like OUTSaskatoon exist to be advocates of care, safety and wellbeing for all identities. We at OUTSaskatoon are proud to be such a voice - so that there will always be a safe space. We will continue to work tirelessly in support of the acceptance and visibility of 2SLGBTQ+ people including those under the age of 16. We are here to support you.
Melody Wood, Board Chair, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rose Gilks, Interim Executive Director, email@example.com
213 Avenue C South
Saskatoon, SK S7M 1N3
OUTSaskatoon is Saskatoon and area’s 2SLGBTQ community centre and service provider. We believe in a bolder, braver, and safer future for all. We strive towards this by providing support services, youth housing, and education and research services through a harm reduction, culturally informed, equity-seeking, and community-based approach.