February 21st, 2024

Guest Opinion: Trans rights are human rights

By Dr. Roberta Lexier on February 8, 2024.

Danielle Smith’s baseless policies targeting transgender children and adults in education, health care and sports are inhumane and must be resisted.

The Jan. 31 announcement that the provincial government plans to restrict gender-affirming health care for youth, out kids to their parents and ban transwomen from female sports should concern every Albertan. The hypocritical policies, meant to satisfy the premier’s far-right base and distract from legitimate social problems, claim to “preserv[e] choice” and “extend care” but deprive LGBTQIA2S+ and young people of their human and constitutional rights and cause unnecessary suffering and death.

Smith, like counterparts in Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, the United States and elsewhere, claims a social contagion has infected youth, leading to a crisis of gender identity. Asserting supposed parental rights, she insists the government must intervene to restrict medical treatments, protect athletes from apparently unfair competition and force teachers to expose their students.

She is lying.

The truth is, there is no crisis. Census data from 2021 demonstrates that fully 99.63% of Albertans are cisgender and identify with their sex assigned at birth. Approximately 5,000 are gender-fluid, queer, or Two-Spirit and 7,000 transgender.

For perspective, Mount Royal University has a total student population of nearly 15,000, nearly the same proportion of the provincial population.

Moreover, there is no evidence, according to a recent Scientific American article, of a “social contagion” leading a greater percentage of young people to reject their assigned sex. Or that transwomen are suddenly dominating female sports.

Gender is a construct and definitions of masculinity and femininity are constantly in flux, but the notion that sex is a simple binary – male and female – is also a myth; human hormones, chromosomes and physiology are extremely complex and, despite Smith’s fearmongering, transgender folks are normal and natural and have always existed.

Medical and psychological research consistently demonstrates the effectiveness of gender-affirming care, including the puberty-blocking treatments the government seeks to ban for youth 15 and under. Temporarily delaying puberty offers adolescents time to explore their identity, but, under Smith’s ideologically-driven plan, it will be too late to prevent potentially dysmorphic changes becoming permanent. More kids will unnecessarily suffer.

Ironically, a government unwilling to act during a public health emergency is suddenly anxious to overrule the experts and intervene in personal decisions. Apparently the anti-mask, anti-vaccination crowd’s co-optation of the reproductive justice slogan, My Body, My Choice, only applies to certain bodies, certain choices.

Where is the freedom for LGBTQIA2S+ folks?

Already, 40 per cent of transgender youth consider suicide. Half experience regular verbal assaults, 10 per cent, physical assaults. The numbers are higher for those in sex work, with disabilities and the unhoused.

Under these policies, more people will suffer. They will die.

The premier points, ever-so-dramatically, to so-called parental rights to justify her blatant hypocrisy; however, under provincial, federal and international law, parents have no such rights. They have “a basic legal obligation to ensure the well-being of their child” and the duty to provide necessities like food, clothing and shelter; protection from harm, abuse and neglect; and financial support until the age of majority. Their only rights relate to choice of education and access to educational records.

Rather, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory, children have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, contribute their views in accordance with their age and maturity, preserve their identity and be protected “from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.”

They have freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom from interference with privacy; freedom of expression and the right to access “ideas of all kinds.”

If you want your kids to confide in you, respect these rights. Listen and don’t judge. Don’t make teachers do your dirty work.

This is an ideological campaign meant to reinforce heteronormative and patriarchal values and existing power structures. It turns already-vulnerable folks into scapegoats, a distraction from the real problems: a climate emergency, rising economic inequality and social dislocation, an ongoing pandemic and rising fascism.

You know who else embraced this strategy? Adolf Hitler.

Mere months after their 1933 assent to power, the Nazis shuttered magazines, nightclubs and the innovative Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin, stripping transgender people of their rights and deporting them to concentration camps. Other groups would soon follow.

The famous Niemöller poem should begin: “First they came for the queers, and I did not speak out.”

We must speak out.

Join a protest. Write your MLA. Talk to your neighbours and coworkers. Support transgender and gender-fluid folks and their human rights.

Don’t let the government, as Egale and Skipping Stone say, “play politics with some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Dr. Roberta Lexier is an associate professor in the Departments of General Education and Humanities at Mount Royal University. She is an expert in social movements and left politics in Canada.

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