Alberta government changes to transgender policies – and why this should matter to atheists, skeptics, and all Albertans.

This week, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith announced sweeping changes to gender-affirming care and sex education in our province. So why should a group of skeptics care about this? Because they fly in the face of evidence-based care. And because the groups driving these changes are basing their decisions on antiquated religious belief systems.

In fact, the two most sensational topics – top and bottom surgery and hormone therapy – are not really changes at all. Alberta health-care providers currently follow the World Professional Association for Transgender Health standards of care, which already generally advise waiting until people are 18 to undergo such therapies.

So why do this? I believe it is a smoke and mirrors game to slip in the other changes. And those changes are significant.

The new rules would require parental consent and/or informing parents when a student would like to change their name or pronouns. The fact is some kids are not safe to tell their parents they are exploring their gender identity, especially those growing up in fundamentalist religious households. In many cases, this will lead children to remain closeted.

Puberty blockers have been used for decades, are reversible and are generally considered to have a low-risk profile by delaying puberty, thereby giving individuals the opportunity to explore their gender identity. There is some evidence that taking puberty blockers may inhibit bone density, but none that confirms a decreased bone density persists after treatment. For those suffering from gender dysphoria, the benefits of the use of puberty blockers may outweigh the potential side effects.

Both of these things, puberty blockers and allowing kids to explore their gender identity through the use of different pronouns and names, are tools that can be used to ensure that people do not make rash decisions to alter their gender. They give kids and their families longer to thoughtfully consider their options in a safe and supportive manner. They allow kids to experiment with an identity before making a life-altering decision.

Another change will require parents to “opt-in” for any instruction that involves gender identity, sexual orientation, or human sexuality. Opting in creates an additional administrative burden on the teachers and creates a barrier for families who already struggle to keep up with the mountain of correspondence required from schools.

Currently, “under section 58.1 of the Education Act, parents must be provided with notice where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, include subject matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality.” The new policy is broader, using the language “any instruction”. Also under the rules “all third-party teaching materials on gender identity, sexual orientation or sexuality will need to be approved in advance by the education ministry”. Will this include an English teacher assigning a novel that features same-sex couples? Will it include a staff member mentioning that they spent time with their partner on the weekend? It may not be clear, and many teachers will simply avoid including these topics in their curriculum just to be sure.

None of these recommendations follow best practices. They fly in the face of scientific evidence and recommendations from the medical community. So where did these recommendations come from? The provincial government consulted with Alberta Parent’s Union, an organization led by Jeff Park, who also has ties to the Parents for Choice in Education, Home School Legal Defence Association Canada, and Liberty University, a Christian institution based out of Virginia.

When the government is setting policy based on the input of religious fundamentalist groups, it is time for us to pay attention.

If you would like to get involved, here are a few ways to do so:

  • Write a letter to your MLA
  • Send a letter to Danielle Smith
  • Learn more about the issues by visiting the Skipping Stone or the Centre for Sexuality
  • Contribute to the fund for mounting a legal challenge against these policies

References

Alberta Parent’s Union. Jeff Park, Executive Director. https://www.albertaparentsunion.ca/about

CBC News. Jeffrey Park appeals $10,500 fines tied to UCP ‘kamikaze’ leadership campaign investigation. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/jeffrey-park-appeal-fines-1.5149655

E. Coleman, A. E. Radix, W. P. Bouman, G. R. Brown, A. L. C. de Vries, M. B. Deutsch, R. Ettner, L. Fraser, M. Goodman, J. Green, A. B. Hancock, T. W. Johnson, D. H. Karasic, G. A. Knudson, S. F. Leibowitz, H. F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg, S. J. Monstrey, J. Motmans, L. Nahata, T. O. Nieder, S. L. Reisner, C. Richards, L. S. Schechter, V. Tangpricha, A. C. Tishelman, M. A. A. Van Trotsenburg, S. Winter, K. Ducheny, N. J. Adams, T. M. Adrián, L. R. Allen, D. Azul, H. Bagga, K. Başar, D. S. Bathory, J. J. Belinky, D. R. Berg, J. U. Berli, R. O. Bluebond-Langner, M.- B. Bouman, M. L. Bowers, P. J. Brassard, J. Byrne, L. Capitán, C. J. Cargill, J. M. Carswell, S. C. Chang, G. Chelvakumar, T. Corneil, K. B. Dalke, G. De Cuypere, E. de Vries, M. Den Heijer, A. H. Devor, C. Dhejne, A. D’Marco, E. K. Edmiston, L. Edwards-Leeper, R. Ehrbar, D. Ehrensaft, J. Eisfeld, E. Elaut, L. Erickson-Schroth, J. L. Feldman, A. D. Fisher, M. M. Garcia, L. Gijs, S. E. Green, B. P. Hall, T. L. D. Hardy, M. S. Irwig, L. A. Jacobs, A. C. Janssen, K. Johnson, D. T. Klink, B. P. C. Kreukels, L. E. Kuper, E. J. Kvach, M. A. Malouf, R. Massey, T. Mazur, C. McLachlan, S. D. Morrison, S. W. Mosser, P. M. Neira, U. Nygren, J. M. Oates, J. Obedin-Maliver, G. Pagkalos, J. Patton, N. Phanuphak, K. Rachlin, T. Reed, G. N. Rider, J. Ristori, S. Robbins-Cherry, S. A. Roberts, K. A. Rodriguez-Wallberg, S. M. Rosenthal, K. Sabir, J. D. Safer, A. I. Scheim, L. J. Seal, T. J. Sehoole, K. Spencer, C. St. Amand, T. D. Steensma, J. F. Strang, G. B. Taylor, K. Tilleman, G. G. T’Sjoen, L. N. Vala, N. M. Van Mello, J. F. Veale, J. A. Vencill, B. Vincent, L. M. Wesp, M. A. West & J. Arcelus (2022) Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender and Gender Diverse People, Version 8, International Journal of Transgender Health, 23:sup1, S1-S259, DOI: 10.1080/26895269.2022.2100644

French, Janet. Alberta premier says legislation on gender policies for children, youth coming this fall. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/danielle-smith-1.7101595#:~:text=Alberta%20Premier%20Danielle%20Smith%20announced,name%20or%20pronoun%20at%20school.

Goodyear, Sheena. How gender-affirming health care for kids works in Canada. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/gender-affirming-care-youth-1.7021529#:~:text=How%20does%20it%20work%3F,%2C%20or%20gender%2Daffirming%20surgeries

Government of Alberta Human Sexuality Education Policy. https://www.alberta.ca/education-guide-policies#jumplinks-3

Haraldsen, I. R., Haug, E., Falch, J., Egeland, T., & Opjordsmoen, S. (2007). Cross-sex pattern of bone mineral density in early onset gender identity disorder. Hormones and Behavior, 52(3), 334–343. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2007.05.012

Home School Legal Defense Association Canada. https://hslda.ca/

Klink, D., Caris, M., Heijboer, A., van Trotsenburg, M., & Rotteveel, J. (2015). Bone mass in young adulthood following gonadotropin-releasing hormone analog treatment and cross-sex hormone treatment in adolescents with gender dysphoria. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 100(2), E270–E275.

Liberty University. https://www.liberty.edu/

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Puberty blockers: GnRH analogues. Retrieved February 4, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gender-dysphoria/in-depth/pubertal-blockers/art-20459075

Mertz, Emily. How ‘opt-in’ sex ed could impact Alberta youth, parents and schools. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/10269039/alberta-smith-opt-in-sex-ed-youth-parental-rights-schools/

Olson-Kennedy, J., Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., Kreukels, B. P. C., Meyer-Bahlburg, H. F. L., Garofalo, R., Meyer, W., & Rosenthal, S. M. (2016). Research priorities for gender nonconforming/transgender youth: Gender identity development and biopsychosocial outcomes. Current Opinion in Endocrinology & Diabetes and Obesity, 23(2), 172–179. doi:10.1097/MED.0000000000000236

Parents for Choice in Education. https://www.parentchoice.ca/august2020_in_review

Simona Giordano & Søren Holm (2020) Is puberty delaying treatment ‘experimental treatment’?, International Journal of Transgender Health, 21:2, 113-121, DOI: 10.1080/26895269.2020.1747768

Stidham Hall, K, McDermott Sales, J; Komro, K.A.; Santelli, J. 2016. Journal of Adolescent Health 58 (2016) 595e597. The State of Sex Education in the United States. https://www.jahonline.org/action/showPdf?pii=S1054-139X%2816%2930004-0

Wiepjes, C. M., de Jongh, R. T., de Blok, C. J. M., Vlot, M. C., Lips, P., Twisk, J. W. R., & den Heijer, M. (2019). Bone safety during the first ten years of gender‐affirming hormonal treatment in transwomen and transmen. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 34(3), 447–454. doi:10.1002/jbmr.3612


UPDATE: See the reply from the Premier of Alberta

From: Office of the Premier Premier@gov.ab.ca

Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2024 at 13:44

Subject: Gender Identity and Parental Rights ACCTS:00120012872

Good day:

Thank you for contacting me about our government’s recent policy direction surrounding gender identity, parental rights, protecting children and preserving both fairness and safety in sports. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and feedback.

I know that people have strong feelings about these sensitive issues, but I believe every Albertan wants to make sure that both transgender adults and children are safe, loved and accepted for who they are. As we look ahead to implementation of the new policies in the fall, our government will take action on several key initiatives.

I care deeply about transgender people, and my team and I are committed to ensuring they are supported and their rights are protected. That’s why we’re working to attract medical professionals specializing in transgender surgery for adults. We will also build a registry of medical specialists in this field to better support the unique, lifelong health-care needs of transgender Albertans.

It is just as crucial to ensure that minors aged 17 and under who identify as transgender are loved and supported. I have, though, heard from many Albertans who share my concerns about children making permanent, irreversible changes to their bodies before they are mature enough to fully understand the long-term implications of their decisions. To address these concerns, Alberta’s new policies will include a prohibition on gender reassignment surgeries for minors aged 17 and under. Additionally, children aged 15 and under will not be permitted to take puberty blockers and hormone therapies for the purpose of gender reassignment, with the exception of those who have already commenced treatment. Minors aged 16 and 17 wanting to undergo hormone therapy for gender reassignment purposes will be permitted to do so following parental consent and approval from a physician and psychologist.

It is important that classroom discussions about gender identity and other sensitive subjects occur under an umbrella of respect for the parent-child relationship. When teachers plan to discuss subject matter related to gender identity, sexual orientation or sexuality for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students, parents will be notified so they can decide whether their children are included in the conversation. Additionally, all third-party resource materials related to gender identity, sexual orientation or human sexuality in our school system will need to be pre-approved by the Ministry of Education to ensure the materials are age-appropriate.

I strongly believe that as the ultimate authority figures in children’s lives, parents deserve to know when their kids are facing challenges. That’s why children aged 15 and under will now require parental notification and consent before their name or pronouns are changed in school. Minors aged 16 and 17 won’t require parental consent to use alternate pronouns, but parents must be notified of their child’s preferences.

It’s also critical that we support families and kids so they can work though their child’s unique needs together. A new program will provide counselling services for families to help navigate these issues. Should a child who identifies as transgender experience abuse from a parent or caregiver, we will not hesitate to strictly and swiftly enforce Alberta’s robust child protection laws, just as we would in other instances of abuse.

Lastly, Alberta’s government will be implementing policies to make sports both safe and fair. Unfortunately, women and girls are facing disadvantages when competing against biologically stronger transgender female athletes. I promise you that we will work with sporting organizations to ensure women and girls have the choice to join a womens-only division in athletic competitions. At the same time, we will make sure transgender athletes are able to participate meaningfully in the sport of their choice with expanded co-ed and gender-neutral options.

Thank you once again for writing to me. Our government intends to bring these policy changes forward in the fall, so there will be time for conversation and continued work to make sure we get things right.

While I know these are sensitive topics, and we may not agree on the best course of action, I appreciate hearing the views of every Albertan. I am optimistic that we can put politics aside and find common ground based on our desire to do what is best for kids in our great province.

Sincerely,

Honourable Danielle Smith

Premier of Alberta

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