The heated debate around transgender rights and access to gender-affirming health care was on full display on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Saturday.
The protest, which billed itself as a demonstration against “child medical-transition and gender identity in schools” drew a vocal crowd of counter-protesters, who accused the event of being anti-trans and promoting hate.
“There seems to be an attack on the supports that have been put in place in recent years to support trans kids,” Travers, a Simon Fraser University professor and author of the book The Trans Generation, told Global News ahead of the demonstration.
“I thought OK, here we go, it’s happening here now. It’s terrible news for trans kids.”
Speakers included Maxime Bernier, leader of the far-right populist People’s Party of Canada, ejected former-Conservative MP Derek Sloan, and Chilliwack School Trustee Barry Neufeld, who has drawn heat for previous comments comparing gender transitioning to child abuse.
Speeches railed at points against SOGI 123, a program designed to make schools a safe and inclusive for LGBTQ2 youth, and a proposed federal ban on the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy.
Organizers billed the event as centering on parents rights, backing a B.C. father who can not be named due to a publication ban. The Toronto Star reports the man is currently behind bars ahead of a trial on accusations of violating court orders meant to protect his transgender son’s identity in the wake of a bitter B.C. Supreme Court and B.C. Court of Appeal battle over whether the boy could access hormone therapy without his father’s consent.
Among speakers’ claims were that doctors and activists promoting a “trans ideology” were convincing youth to take “wrong sex hormones” and “cut off their private parts.”
“In fact, that’s not true. You have to be 19 years of age in order to access surgery or those kinds of treatments,” Travers said.
“What is basically being offered to trans kids now is supportive health care, support for socially transitioning in schools, and for some kids who want it, hormone blockers, so they can put puberty on pause while they think about what they want to do.”
According to the B.C. Provincial Health Services Agency, upper body gender-affirming surgeries are available in some specific cases to people under the age of 19, but may require an additional readiness assessment.
According to the PHSA, there are no known irreversible effects to puberty blockers, however, withholding blockers can lead to anxiety and depression among youth with gender dysphoria as they begin to develop mature and potentially irreversible sexual characters not in line with their gender.
Research has found Canadian transgender youth, particularly those 14-18, at a higher risk of psychological distress, self-harm and suicidal ideation.
Youth can decide whether to start hormone therapy, which can cause some irreversible changes, “around the age of 16,” according to the PHSA.
Gender expression and identity are protected under both the B.C. and Canadian human rights codes, while the aforementioned court case reaffirmed that minors have the right under the Infants Act to consent to their own medical care without parental approval if deemed mature enough to do so by a medical professional.
“They’re also claiming that doctors and trans activists are turning kids trans, when that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Travers said.
“What we have seen in the last decade is the emergence of support for trans kids, and which has had profoundly positive impact on their mental health, and indeed their likelihood for survival.”
Ahead of the demonstration, the City of Vancouver issued a statement that it had “zero tolerance for hatred, racism and discrimination,” and that it stood against transphobia.
However, the city added that it could not stop the demonstration, which was protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Travers said in addition to spreading misinformation, Saturday’s rally threatened to do real harm to young trans people, who already face hate and intolerance daily.
They added that transgender people have always been in society, but have often not been public about their identity out of fear.
“Speaking to trans kids out there, I want you to know we see you, whether you feel safe to show yourself or not, we are in support of you,” Travers said.
“And also, you’re really normal. Transgender kids represent a normal, healthy gender variation and have always existed in some form or other. It has been the lack of support that has made it unsafe for trans people to show themselves.”