Parents have a right to know if their child identifies as transgender at school or seeks counseling in relation to sexual identity, the executive director of a parents group says.
Dozens of Calgary parents met with school trustees and area politicians on Monday evening to raise their concerns over the provincial government's LGBTQ guidelines.
In January, school boards across Alberta were given guidelines to incorporate new policies to support and protect students, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
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One of those guidelines stipulates that schools should have "a student's explicit permission before disclosing information related to the student's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression to peers, parents, guardians or other adults in their lives."
That guideline has Donna Trimble concerned.
"Parents are being told that they will not be informed unless their children give consent when their children go forward for counselling in relation to sexual identity," said Trimble, who is the executive director for Parents for Choice in Education.
"That's a huge concern for parents. They feel there needs to be a second set of eyes in schools to make sure kids are getting what they need."
Parents for Choice in Education has previously spoken out against the guidelines, as well as Bill 10, which allows students to form gay-straight alliances in schools.
If a child is struggling with their gender identity, parents should know, Trimble said.
"What needs to happen is schools need to mediate safe spaces, a safe way for a child to come out to a parent, so that that can be as healthy a situation as possible and those difficult discussions can happen, and then the child will truly be supported by all of the stakeholders that want to support him," she said.
Angela Reid, a transgender woman and spokesperson for the Trans Equality Society of Alberta, said students — even those who are minors — have the right to their own autonomy.
"'Parents' rights' isn't actually a concept that is directly ensconced in Canadian foundational documents," she said.
"Children are their own citizens and they have their own rights as well. From a fundamental standpoint, that's why the kids have the autonomy that they do and they are not, therefore, owned by their parents."
Forcing students to come out to their parents could be extremely harmful, advocates say.
Children are their own citizens. - Angela Reid, TESA spokesperson
According to the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, between 20 and 40 per cent of homeless youth are LGBTQ.
"The number one reason for homelessness is parental rejection," said director Kris Wells.
Reid said there seems to be a misunderstanding among parents about how difficult — and sometimes dangerous — it can be for a child to come out as transgender to their family.
"It seems that there's a huge assumption, and I'm sure it's by well-meaning parents, that other parents are also well meaning," she said.
"Unfortunately the stats on homelessness in the LGBTQ youth population is pretty stacked … unfortunately not in favour of the parents."
More parental inclusion sought
Allison Beaton, a mom of three, said the guidelines make her feel "defeated."
"It makes me feel like I'm not needed, like the state is basically wanting to raise our children," she said.
Beaton said there should be more parental consultation and discussion around LGBTQ students and the challenges they can face at school.
"Maybe have more meetings for the parents so that parents may have an idea of what kids are facing at school," she said.
School boards have until March 31st to create policies supporting LGBTQ students.