The following Op-Ed was submitted anonymously.
Since the implementation of the governmental changes surrounding an educational policy, protests and demonstrations of support have occurred all over New Brunswick as people give input on a policy that, before now, was never really publicly acknowledged.
Since the education minister has decided to make changes, waves of voices and actions have spread across the province, either in drastic support or extreme intolerance.
The history of policy 713
The Anglophone South School District implemented the minimum requirements for the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (Policy 713) in August 2020.
This policy was implemented to guarantee that students of the LGBTQIA2S+ community feel supported within the learning environment, but changes implemented in June have sparked debate and controversy among New Brunswickers everywhere.
The original Policy 713 allowed students of all ages the right to use their preferred names and pronouns consistently and officially in learning environments. Students under the age of 16 also had the right to give informed consent to the principal before they contacted parents to discuss their preferred names.
In the event the school could not obtain parental consent for the use of the student’s preferred name, a plan would then be put in place to manage and support the student and the use of their preferred name.
These standards were accompanied by a protocol that all students are readily given destigmatized access to washrooms aligning with their gender identity, as well as access to a gender-neutral washroom.
The political changes
In early June 2023, Education Minister Bill Hogan, under the Higgs Progressive Conservative government, announced that they were reviewing Policy 713. Specifically, Minister Hogan made changes to the previous section that allowed schools the right to implement a plan so a student could be referred to by their preferred name in a school setting.
Students under 16 years old have always required parental consent to use their preferred first name in a school setting, with the caveat that a support plan for the management of a preferred first name within a school setting.
The changes made by Hogan place parents at the forefront of a student’s decision to use their preferred name in a school setting, with the revised version of 713 requiring teachers to acquire parental consent before using a student’s preferred pronouns or name of a student under 16.
Other changes within 713 include the removal of the guideline that allows students accommodations that align with their gender identity when off-school property, such as field trips, co-curricular and curricular activities, events, etc. Now, 713 states that students may participate in curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular activities that are “safe and welcoming.”
In a press conference interview, Minister Hogan claimed that teachers are “forbidden” to use a child’s chosen name and pronoun without the knowledge and permission of the parents or guardians.
However, an inherent problem with the changes made to Policy 713, which both The New Brunswick Teaching Association and New Brunswick’s Child and Youth Advocate have presented, is the vague wording within 713 paired with the unfounded regulations dictated in an interview with no legal basis.
The basis of the new policy relies upon the virtually non-existent ‘school psychologist’ who can provide a child who declines permission to contact parents about requested name or pronoun changes. In light of the present deficit of mental health help in New Brunswick, most students seeking the help of a school psychologist must wait upwards of two years.
Minister Hogan cares more about the parents of students than the students themselves, and because of this, he puts students, however inadvertently, at risk for harassment, bullying, hatred, and, in some cases, even violence.
Countering all the recommendations from health and medical professionals and legal experts surrounding the changes to 713, Minister Hogan still implemented his decision. If he believes that New Brunswick has a safe public education system that supports all students, shouldn’t we then have a policy that reflects that?
Students are their own person. They are not direct copies of their parents and, believe it or not, students have their own minds, and their own choices, and as a general educational system, we should reflect that.
The role of teachers
While some teachers have brought up concerns surrounding the safety of students if parents are contacted and a student is outed to parents who disagree with their child’s identity, Hogan has responded, merely insisting school staff would not and that not sharing this information with parents is “fundamentally wrong” while admitting that this does put teachers in a difficult position.
The problem with the narrative that has surrounded Policy 713, now more than ever, is that the mass amounts of misinformation being spread to the public are not corroborated by any evidence. Hateful remarks about teachers indoctrinating students and untrue stories about teachers enabling students to use litter boxes in schools have become so transfixed in the eyes of those who do not support the Policy that the reality and impact of 713 are being overshadowed by incredulous amounts of distortion.
Truthfully, most teachers are not trying to push any agenda. Teachers are not trying to harm your children. Teachers are in a school to educate and support children. I agree that we cannot paint every teacher with the same brush, just as we cannot paint every student with the same brush. While methodologies may vary between classrooms, the intention of a school and teachers remains the same.
The entire purpose of having policies such as 713 is to ensure consistency and safety are paramount within all schools. The sentiment shared by Education Minister Hogan surrounding elementary schools and 713 is factually untrue.
The position of Policy 713 in elementary schools is not to implement GSA clubs for fifth graders… the purpose of it is to use inclusive language such as “partners” instead of husband/wife; the purpose is using “guardians” rather than parents because not all students live with their parents; the purpose is listening and respecting kids when they tell you which name they prefer – not just for students who identify as part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, but for those who may go by a middle name instead.
Policy 713 is not about sex, and it is not about having litter boxes in classrooms (this is not a thing; please do your research).
Teachers use 713 to guide their instruction. They use it to allow students the option of safe access to a gender-neutral washroom. It is used to provide students with a safe place to go and be surrounded by people who also relate to them. Do some high schools have a Gender-Sexuality alliance? Yes, but it is also important to remember that this space provided to this student could be the only time they are ever validated about their feelings. This could be the only time they are truly able to be themselves.
713 is about addressing systemic injustice, addressing stereotypes, and deep discrimination. It allows students access to books and learning materials that represent things other than the typical nuclear family. These materials do not “teach” this relationship, and they are merely utilized like characters in books, articles, or clips used within a classroom.
We have all seen heterosexual cis-gender characters in learning materials and media for dozens of years, so what is the harm in adapting our teaching to accurately represent the changing times around us?
So now teachers must use legal first names until students are 16 years old unless parental consent is required. This goes beyond students who choose to go by a name that reflects their gender identity better than that they were given at birth. This means that any student who goes by a first name, a nickname, or anything else must have the teacher contact the parents directly before using their preferred name.
For those who are not aware of a teacher’s daily schedule, this is no longer a matter of abiding by a student’s wishes to create a safe environment; this is now a matter of making a phone call home, adding time to an already busy schedule, any time a student goes by a different name.
The substantial change here is not just in policy. It is in the fact that we are overlooking why a student who may be LGBTQIA2S+ is worried about their parents finding out they are part of this community. Maybe if we stopped to ask why, we could address the inherent problem.
A visit from a school psychologist to a teacher who can call a student by their desired name is not the solution. On top of the fact that our province does not have nearly enough psychologists (waiting lists for schools are over two years long), a visit to a psychologist will make their home no safer.
The issue is not the parents who are loving, supportive, and compassionate and would like to know if their child changed their name. The problem is the parents and homes that are not so supportive, as some parents are violent.
713 is meant to protect kids from all threats, including the ones that may be in their homes.
The role of students
It is not only teachers who have spoken up, discussing their views on the changes made to the policy this summer. On June 1, Minister Bill Hogan met with a grade 11 student to discuss the review of 713. However, after it took place, news stations everywhere reported that the student expressed frustration at being disrespected, unheard, and entirely dismissed.
Reports of Minster Hogan speaking in an overly angry tone and arriving 30 minutes late to the meeting prevailed as the student spoke about trying to bring up concerns surrounding policy changes and Hogan was “like talking to a brick wall” and “continually referred to the LGBTQIA2S+ lifestyle as a choice.”
Students have brought up concerns surrounding the violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms this policy has created, as well as concerns surrounding children who have experienced conversion therapy. The Minister and Premier have not yet responded to these issues.
Blaine Higgs has, however, stated that he is not ruling out the option of using the notwithstanding clause within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure his changes are made. Political experts have commented on this statement and forewarned that this decision could be a very bad move on his part and may potentially lose him votes.
Students have since held walkouts, protests, and counter-protests to continue to voice their support for Policy 713 and their anger at the abhorrent lack of concern the Education Minister and Premier have shown for the students affected by these changes.
The LGBTQIA2S+ community speaks up
The truth is as simple as this: people are part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community; they have been around for longer than you may choose to believe and will be around for far longer than you can probably imagine, but they are indisputably here. They exist, and they will continue to exist loudly and proudly despite the hatred and antagonization.
Countless teachers have been very vocal about their continual support of the policy and members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, with one teacher from the Kennebecasis Valley region (who chose to remain anonymous) stating, “At the end of the day, I am passionate about education and the student’s learning. I care about engaging them in real-world issues and curating an understanding of real-world skills and deep understandings of how everything in the world is connected.”
Now more than ever, it is important not to stay quiet. We should not have to fight for safe spaces for anyone to exist, and gender-inclusive language should not be such an exhausting debate. Kindness, tolerance, acceptance, and love should not be so hard to obtain.
While Premier Higgs asks, “Are we trying to teach acceptance or are we trying to teach promotion,” I think the question should be, why do you think you can “promote” people being of queer identity? Being part of an LGBTQIA2S+ community is a normal part of society, and if he believes we should not promote that, then there is inherent prejudice in our government that needs to be addressed immediately.
Alternatively, if this statement reflects his belief that you can “make people gay,” then Premier Higgs needs to go back to school and learn for himself that the humanization and tolerance of a community that is ever-present in our society who do NOT choose to be the way they are does not breed hatred and indoctrination.
The fight back: “Don’t mess with our kids”
Protests have occurred within Saint John, supporting the changes made to the Policy, and individuals have gone out of their way to show their contrary beliefs to LGBTQIA2S+. The comments from Higgs on the reasoning behind the changes made to the policy relate to what he believes is an over popularity of gender dysphoria, and he suggested that society had become too supportive and accepting of people changing their names and genders.
On September 20, Premier Higgs defended his position of “supporting parental rights” while greeting protestors on the lawn of the legislature building in Fredericton. Many people who showed up as anti-protestors were shocked, hurt, and angry that Higgs went out of his way to shake hands and chat with the protestors, but he never crossed the line to hear anything from the other side.
Higgs was heard thanking protestors for their presence at the protest and told many individuals toting signs denouncing SOGI education, ones saying, “We need real education, not sex,” and other anti-inclusionary statements.
This protest was just one of many held across New Brunswick, organized by people who claim to be for children and parental rights but are against inclusive policies for LGBTQIA2S+ individuals.
Police officers showed up at the protest in Fredericton and stood between the groups of protesters and anti-protesters who were on opposing sides of the street. While individuals waving signs were shouting incoherently at each other across the street, Higgs told reporters it was not up to him to de-escalate the situation, claiming that this was “what was needed.”
Saint Johners speak out
On September 20, large swarms of people marched from Saint John City Hall to Kings Square to voice their views on the Education Department’s changes to Policy 713. Reports indicate there were about 200 protesters and 60 counter-protestors outside of city hall.
The Baron spoke with Saint John City Councilor Brent Harris about the atmosphere of the events outside of city hall. According to Harris, he and Joanna Killen met with union members at city hall for the event that started at 11 a.m.
Around 10:55 a.m. Harris recalls that there were so many people it was difficult to find a parking spot, and by the time they got there, it was crowded and difficult to see where people were and what was going on.
Signs on the protestor side read “Boy and Girl. Trust the science,” “Don’t mess with our kids,” and “Protect the Children,” accompanying screaming and people condemning teachers.
Harris recalls, “We were trying to have a conversation with them, you know, let the teachers do their job and if you don’t want them in school, then homeschool them. There were a lot of teens in the crowd and young men. Things started to get headed, and at one moment, a young teenager ripped a pride flag out of [*you can remove the name for privacy purposes if you would like, but he said it was Vivian Sullivan]’s hands, and then ran away and ripped the flag up completely.”
He describes the counter-protest side as many women and a few members of the transgender community, but not many people his size. The protestors, however, were composed of large men and teenagers.
The group of counter-protestors chanted, “Let teachers do their job,” as the other side called teachers groomers. The counter-protestors sang songs [again, you can remove the name if you want, but it was Andre Haynes singing songs] for about five to seven minutes before they moved up to Kings Square.
“It was difficult, you know because we were trying to keep the more vulnerable at the back of our group as they started threatening me and saying they would break my neck. By the time we got up to Kings Square, they were spewing personal insults, calling me a despicable politician, and there were so many altercations, teenagers causing havoc,” said Harris.
The fear and fight against inclusion
Long before changes were officially implemented, back in May, many community members, organizations, and unions spoke out and wrote letters expressing their concern with the review of Policy 713. Sentiments shared by the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association (NBTA) include the union addressing the excessive misinformation spreading online about the intention of this policy. Protestors showed up at one of the almost 200 professional development meetings and waved signs such as “Shame on Teachers,” “No SOGI ed,” and “Perverts in education’.
The open protests and irrefutable hatred that is shown toward teachers trying to educate themselves on critical issues facing our students today are disheartening and, frankly, scary. To have our education minister openly admit he does not support teachers or this policy, and on top of that repeatedly spout false facts about the operation of the EECD brings question to his ability to effectively lead such an integral part of government.
The heartbreaking realization is that so much hate and intolerance have been spread online that parents and families of children attending public schools do not even have the time to look at the policy or speak with educators who are responsible for implementing this policy to discover what it is really about.
The open letter to Minister Hogan wrote of protestors who voiced hatred, resentment, and shame toward the government, teachers, members of the LGBTQIA2S+ communities, and allies who are “allowing and encouraging students to use litter boxes in schools.”
What was even more upsetting, however, was the open letter in response to this protest from Minister Hogan himself, who, rather than defending teachers and the education system policies, called for a review and spoke of change.
The same day, Pride in Education Co-Chair Gail Costello wrote an open letter expressing dismay and disappointment after hosting (for the first time) a full day of education for teachers surrounding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity at the expense of the Department of Education and Early Childhood (EECD) only to have them remove funding from this Professional Learning Initiative.
According to the letter, The Liberal and Conservative governments have been very supportive of the education work carried out by the Pride in Education Board, and the removal of the annual allotment of $ 20,000 – $ 25,000 came as a surprise and a shock.
This letter also clarified the false statement presented by Bill Hogan in his letter on May 5, in which he said that the EECD had no part in the organization of Pride in Education and the SOGI Professional Development event, which is, of course, untrue as the entire event was planned with EECD staff and finalized through the Department of Education not to mention all the books and funding they provided for the event that day, including travel and food costs.
Where are we now?
Love is louder ☺
In response to the protests that were held within Kings Square, a Love is Louder event took place on October 21 in Kings Square. Vendors, speakers, and flocks of people proudly paraded around without fear of being candidly individualistic.
The love and acceptance were palpable at the event, and an outpouring of heartfelt stories of personal experiences with transition, coming to terms with identity, and the value of being heard and seen were shared.
An overwhelming amount of people spoke about how crucial community support is at a time like this and the power Policy 713 has to make a safe and welcoming space for individuals who are part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.
“I find it appalling that some people choose to stand here today and at this age trying to erase education, trying to erase diversity and uniqueness erase safety for our trans children and future trans adults. That they attempt to erase freedom of expression and bodily autonomy and so much more. We are not grooming the children. We are not forcing the children to transition. We are not saying sexually explicit things to the children. We are not trying to harm the children.
What we are trying to do is educate the children so that they can give love to everyone regardless of who they are. We are trying to teach acceptance we are trying to teach diversity and uniqueness. We are trying to teach them to create a loving world for everyone despite our differences. We are not trying to change your children. We do not want to hurt the children. We do not want to groom the children. We just want them to know love and acceptance and diversity so we can create a better future.
Trans erasure is genocide and this event is so important to highlight that we will prevail through darkness. I’m doing this for my community, our trans and cis children including myself who, because of their identity, did not get the life that we deserve.”
A small child came up and hugged them afterward. Made possible by community members who are moving this message forward.