Hundreds of Alberta students staged classroom walkouts Wednesday to protest the provincial government’s planned policies around transgender youth.
At 10 a.m., students left their classrooms and staged demonstrations calling for the province to reverse course on sweeping gender identity policies announced last week by Premier Danielle Smith.
About 200 students walked out of classes at Victoria School in central Edmonton and stood in protest outside the entry doors. Outside the south-side Strathcona High School, another 60 students gathered, the crowd dotted with signs and Pride flags.
Achilles Chinery, 17, who helped organize the walkout at Victoria School, said it was heartwarming to see the protest and to know that students at other Alberta schools were staging their own protests.
He said he is skeptical that government will listen to the concerns of protesters but hopes the walkouts show transgender youth they have strong allies.
“I honestly don’t how much of a difference it will make to Danielle Smith but I do know it will make a difference to the people who are scared and worried right now,” he said.
The walkouts are the latest in a string of demonstrations decrying the proposed policies. Smith’s announcement has spurred several protests — both at the grassroots level and from groups like the Alberta Medical Association.
Smith says her United Conservative Party government will introduce legislation this fall to bring in new rules, including restrictions on youth changing their names or pronouns at school and getting hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgery.
She says the policies are to ensure children are “fully informed” about the decisions they are making because they might regret them later in life.
Rae Canavan-Lebeuf, who helped organize the Strathcona School demonstration, said she fears what the policies will mean for the future of all 2SLGBTQ+ Albertans.
“Not only is this bill going to affect trans kids, it’s going to affect everyone,” she said.
“If it’s passed, it opens a gateway to more bills and more rights being restricted.
“It’s frustrating to have to fight for rights that we already have.”
Sixteen-year-old Aspen Cervo, a student at Leduc Composite High School in Leduc, 35 kilometres south of Edmonton, said he began thinking about planning a student walkout right after Smith announced the policies last week.
The Grade 10 student said his 13-year-old brother is transgender and the demonstrations are meant to show him and others they’re supported. About 30 students from Leduc Composite took part in the protest.
“I’m lucky to grow up in a household where it’s safe to be whoever I want to be, but not all kids are lucky like that,” Cervo said.
“Some get rejected or kicked out, and it really hurts you when your own parents basically tell you you’re not their kid anymore.”
Cervo says he used to be transgender but now considers himself gender-fluid. He says he goes by “he,” mostly, but it sometimes changes.
Asked whether his fluidity could support arguments that youth who receive gender-affirming care could later change their minds, Cervo pointed out that no one in Alberta is getting genital reconstruction surgery before 18 because it’s such a big change.
Other types of gender-affirming care, such as hormone therapy that his brother has been waiting for to change his voice, are decisions that Cervo feels his brother and others his age are old enough to make for themselves.
“He’s been waiting for gender-affirming care for two years now and these policies are going to have to make him wait until he’s at least 16,” Cervo said.
“He’s been waiting for so long and now he’s going to have to wait longer.”
Smith has said gender affirming surgeries would be banned for those 17 and under. And there would be no puberty blockers or hormone therapies for the purpose of gender affirmation for anyone 15 and under, unless they’ve already begun such treatments.
Parental consent would be required for students 15 and under who want to change their names or pronouns at school. Students 16 and 17 would not need consent, but their parents would have to be notified.
Smith, in defending her proposals during a trip to Ottawa on Monday, said there is no “single voice” that can speak on behalf of the entire transgender community. She said she has spoken to some transgender people who expressed concerns about the ability of children to transition at a young age.
“We had to have a conversation about what is the appropriate ages to be able to make those life-altering decisions,” she said.
Coral Boivin attended the walkout at Victoria School in support of her three children, who took part in the demonstration.
She said it’s important for Alberta’s youth to speak out, and for the government to listen.
“The kids here are all really passionate about LGBTQ rights and ensuring that this world is going to be a safe place for them when they grow up,” she said. “I think that it’s really important for youth to take a stand against what the province is deciding.
“The more walkouts there are, it’s going to show that kids have an opinion too, and that it matters, and that they’re our future.”