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Gender + Sexuality

Alberta’s New Policies: Anti-trans, Anti-evidence

Danielle Smith unveiled sweeping actions for ‘parental rights.’ Here’s a fact check.

Corinne Mason and Leah Hamilton 5 Feb 2024The Conversation

Corinne L. Mason is an associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Mount Royal University, where Leah Hamilton is vice-dean of research and community relations and a professor in the faculty of business and communication studies. This article was originally published in the Conversation.

What did Alberta Premier Danielle Smith get wrong in her new anti-trans policies? Spoiler alert — everything.

Let’s spend some time fact-checking Smith.

She recently promised a new “parental rights” policy would be introduced by her United Conservative Party government.

Like other experts, we worried these policies would mimic the parental rights legislation recently introduced in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

But we grossly underestimated the breadth of the policies announced.

Smith has unveiled a suite of policies that directly attack trans and gender-diverse children and youth in Alberta. Spanning health care, education and sports, these policies extend well beyond the expected changes to the use of chosen names and pronouns in schools.

Smith intends to implement the most extensive, draconian and unbalanced proposals of any conservative province to date, all under the guise of “preserving choice” for kids.

As we explain below, these policies are at odds with research about gender-affirming care, curriculum and sports.

As a result of ignoring the evidence, these policies could cause significant harm to the many transgender and non-binary youth who live in Alberta or access gender-affirming care in the province (like youth from the Northwest Territories, for example).

Research shows trans-affirming health care saves lives

Smith’s new policy will forbid access to puberty blockers and hormone therapy for the purpose of gender reassignment or affirmation for youth 15 years of age and under, except for those who have already started those treatments. For youth 17 years and under, top and bottom gender reassignment surgeries are not permitted.

This particular policy deliberately spreads disinformation — parents are already required to give consent for their pubescent children to receive puberty blockers and for teenagers to access hormone replacement therapy. Bottom surgeries are already restricted to adults.

Puberty blockers slow down the onset of puberty and are often prescribed for cisgender girls who experience puberty before 10 years old.

According to Scientific American, puberty blockers have been studied extensively and have been used safely since the 1980s.

The effects of puberty blockers are short-lived — they do not cause permanent physical changes to the body, nor do they negatively affect fertility.

The evidence about trans-affirming health care for youth is clear — it saves lives. Evidence suggests that puberty blockers lead to positive mental health outcomes and that the biggest benefits of gender-affirming hormone replacement therapy are realized when HRT is started at age 14 or 15.

In contradiction to Smith’s claims at her Feb. 1 news conference, hormone replacement therapy — which is currently offered to teenagers only with parental consent — doesn’t always cause fertility issues.

In a landmark eight-year fertility clinical study, results showed that transgender men have similar success rates to cisgender patients even after they have used hormone replacement therapy.

As with all medicines, side effects are a risk but researchers caution against fear-mongering in response to gender-affirming care.

How to protect youth from abuse? Robust, consent-based sex ed

Paralleling Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, Alberta youth 15 and under now require parental consent to use chosen names and pronouns at school. Notification is required for 16- and 17-year-olds to do so.

Classroom instruction on gender, sexuality and sexual orientation also now requires parental notification and opt-in. Finally, third-party resource materials on gender, sexuality and sexual orientation in schools need to be pre-approved by the Ministry of Education to make sure they’re “age-appropriate.”

Education experts agree that what is needed to protect youth — including cisgender and heterosexual kids — from potential abuse is robust and consent-based sexual health education.

Youth have the right to knowledge and skills about their bodies, consent, safe/unsafe touch and healthy relationships.

By creating conditions that could result in youth receiving no or limited information, Smith has put children and youth at greater risk of violence and harm.

The potential for irreparable harm

Requiring parental consent for youth to use their chosen name and pronouns at school could cause irreparable harm. This process essentially requires schools to “out” youth to their parents, who may reject their children.

Smith incorrectly suggests that parental rejection of 2SLGBTQIA+ kids is rare.

According to a Canadian study by the Family Acceptance Project, 30 per cent of families reject their child when they come out, and many are removed from their homes.

Among youth who are homeless, 20 per cent identify as 2SLGBTQIA+.

For those who experience family rejection, the rates of suicide are incredibly high.

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 79 per cent of those rejected by their families experienced suicidal ideation and 43 per cent have made a suicide attempt.

No direct relation between hormone and athletic performance

Smith’s policy will also ban trans girls and women athletes from participating in competitive women’s sports. They will be forced to play in gender-neutral or coed divisions.

Yet again, Smith hasn’t listened to the experts. Some scientists maintain that trans women and girls have no “biological advantage” over cisgender girls and women.

A book on the topic that reviewed evidence on testosterone determined there is no direct relation between the hormone and athletic performance.

It found that while testosterone can be linked to muscle mass and muscle memory, there’s no connection to other capacities like endurance and flexibility.

High levels of athleticism are actually correlated with coaching and specialized training — including access to competitive leagues — not to “biological sex.”

Trans sports participation is vital for health and well-being. That’s why the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport recommends “policies governing the participation of trans athletes should be evidence-based.”

According to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, youth participation in sport is associated with positive physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Inclusive sports environments — not segregated leagues — are associated with greater self-esteem and school retention.

Inclusion results in better, not worse, outcomes for trans youth

In survey data collected from 2,873 non-binary and trans people in Canada, youth reported high levels of harassment (72 per cent), rejection from family (25 per cent) and suicide ideation (40 per cent).

In contrast, trans youth who are affirmed in schools, health care and sports have better self-confidence and relationships with their parents.

Smith has incorrectly warned there are risks associated with affirmation and inclusion in schools for trans kids.

What the evidence actually demonstrates is that what truly puts trans kids at risk are transphobic, misguided and ill-informed policies and practices that deny them the right to live authentically and to express themselves fully without fear.

Federal cabinet ministers are speaking out against Smith’s proposed restrictions. Ottawa may oppose the policies in court.

In Alberta, Skipping Stone Foundation in Calgary and Egale Canada — advocacy groups for 2SLGBTQI people — have publicly condemned Smith’s policies and have partnered to file a court injunction.

These policies are clearly meant to satisfy Smith’s electoral base, but her government is now going to have to go head-to-head with the experts — and the evidence — in future legal battles.The Conversation  [Tyee]

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