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N.B. premier faces backlash after trans policy change — why experts say it's ‘embarrassing’

Celeste Trianon, a trans activist, spoke to Yahoo Canada about trans rights amidst the recent news.

Flags of the trans  Pride Movement and of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride and Social Movements
Celeste Trianon, a trans activist, spoke to Yahoo Canada about trans rights amidst recent news. (Photo via Getty Images)

On Thursday, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs announced new changes to a protective policy for queer students.

After weeks of controversy and discussion, Higgs said that teachers in the province will not be required to use the preferred names or pronouns of transgender or non-binary students under the age of 16 without parental consent.

The change occurred after a review of Policy 713, during which the province's child and youth advocate expressed that N.B. has an obligation to protect the rights of queer students.

For context, Policy 713 was initially adopted in 2020 to provide a safe, protected, inclusive and gender-affirming space for students, allowing them to be exactly who they are in an educational setting.

The news received backlash and uncertainty among Higgs' Progressive Conservatives, as well as from the LGBTQ2S+ community.

"We’re going back in time, and it’s embarrassing. Canada is known for being an international leader in freedom and trans rights and that’s now being taken away," said Celeste Trianon, a trans activist, in an interview with Yahoo Canada.

Read on for everything you need to know about the policy change, the review process, and how the news might impact the LGBTQ2S+ community in the province.

The controversy explained

N.B. Education Minister Bill Hogan told journalists he previously received "hundreds" complaints about Policy 713, which prompted a review. However, Kelly Lamrock, New Brunswick’s child and youth advocate, said the department received only three emailed complaints.

After announcing the review, Premier Higgs defended his position to reporters, saying the department will examine whether parents should be informed if children under the age of 16 decide to adopt a different name and/or pronoun at school.

"For it purposefully to be hidden from the parents, that's a problem," Higgs claimed.

While Higgs said he wants kids "to feel comfortable and safe" at school, he ultimately believes schools should be obligated to tell parents everything — including names, pronouns and genders of their children.

Trans activist says review is 'endangering'

When asked her reaction to the review, Trianon expressed her disappointment and worry for the future.

"It was not surprising for me, because I knew that something akin to this would happen, considering the toxicity that is brewing in the United States, here and also abroad," she said. "But it's still disappointing nonetheless, and it's endangering for trans people."

Initially, the policy was instituted in the best interest of the children themselves. In Trianon's opinion, three complaints is not enough to prompt a review of the policy, especially because it was only adopted two and a half years ago.

It's endangering for trans people.Celeste Trianon

Trianon added the policy made things a little better for trans youth, by offering them a chance to be themselves at school.

"The policy was meant to make sure these kids would be safe and have an affirming environment, especially in the case where their parents are unable to offer a safe and welcoming environment for them due to their beliefs," the activist said.

Now that the policy is changed, it could leave trans kids on the streets, which puts their wellbeing at stake.

"There's a reason we have so many trans homeless [people] or trans people living in precarious housing situations, because often they aren't accepted by their parents. This policy gives them a place to be accepted, and reviewing or changing it just makes no sense," Trianon said.

Clenched fist of a man with a painted transsexual flag, wearing an LGTBIQ flag bracelet
Trianon believes the new policy puts trans people at risk. (Photo via Getty Images)

'One election away from becoming Florida'

Last month, Trianon made an Instagram post drawing attention to the People's Party of Canada and their anti-trans platform for the federal by-elections.

According to Trianon, the platform includes "criminalizing gender-affirming care for trans youth and banning trans people's access to bathrooms, and more."

By posting the platform, Trianon aims to remind people that even though Canada is a relatively safe country, there is still injustice for trans people.

"If you think that we're safe in Canada, this is the final straw. We're not," the post read. "We're one election away from becoming Florida."

Trianon told Yahoo Canada there's a possibility Canadians are immune to such behaviour because we grew up with the notion that Canada is a peaceful place.

"We grew up thinking our titles as Canadians will protect us, that we are in a safe country. But human rights are fragile here too," Trianon said. "This is a form of an emergency that's happening in other places like the United States, and it can happen here too."

'This goes against children's best interests'

Now that Higgs has followed through with the policy change, Trianon is worried what the future might look like for trans people.

"The policy is clearly unpopular and this goes against children's best interests," Trianon said. "It also goes against the recommended standard of care for transgender youth, and it's disappointing and scary."

Trianon wants to remind Canadians that trans people are independent beings with agency, and this policy change is denying trans people dignity and ultimately their safety.

"It is a question on fundamental rights and the government is refusing to acknowledge a part of humanity, which is depressing," she said.

The activist added that we're seeing this kind of thing happening in other provinces as well, which puts trans people at risk in all of Canada rather than just New Brunswick.

"I fear there will be hate crimes. I fear we will be an international embarrassment," Trianon said.

"I fear there will be hate crimes. I fear we will be an international embarrassment."Celeste Trianon

Looking towards the future

In order for trans people to feel accepted and safe, Trianon believes they need to have access to decent living conditions. This means both physical shelter as well as socio-economic freedom and being able to live in peace.

"Not having to deal with hate crimes and live life like the rest of the population would do so much," she said.

Trianon added the government needs to do its part to prevent further harm to trans people by instituting policies, combatting the inequity and accepting trans refugees from other countries. Additionally, Canadian citizens must speak out for the safety of their community.

"The situation for trans people is critical. It's like life or death, truly. We need to learn about this and put it in the history books.

"We need to give trans people the space to exist and be safe," she said.

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