Q and A: Psychiatrist weighs in on Saskatchewan’s new pronoun, sex ed policies

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Q and A: Psychiatrist weights in on Saskatchewan’s new pronoun, sex ed policies
WATCH: Global News' Lisa Dutton was joined by psychiatrist Sara Dungavell on Thursday to talk about LGBTQ2 mental health and how trans students might be affected by the province's new pronoun and sexual education policies – Sep 21, 2023

Groups gathered in sweeping protests and clashes across the country on Wednesday to push for change in sexual education. New education policies put in place by the province were front and centre in Saskatchewan.

In August, the Ministry of Education announced that any student under the age of 16 would have to get parental consent to use a preferred name or pronoun in the classroom and parents would be able to choose whether or not their child received sexual education.

Global News’ Lisa Dutton was joined by psychiatrist Dr. Sara Dungavell on Thursday to talk about LGBTQ2 mental health.

This Q&A has been cut down for clarity and time. The full interview can be found in the video above.

Dutton: “What are some of the myths out there that you would like to dispel?”

Dungavell: “I think the most compelling one that a lot of parents are afraid of — the ones who are opposed to the idea that we should be educating our children around gender identity and sexual orientation — is the idea that this is somehow indoctrination. It’s not indoctrination any more than teaching our children about anything is indoctrination. It’s just teaching them about the world, and we all want our children to have the best education possible to learn the fullest set of facts possible and we count on teachers to take really hard or complicated topics, break them down into developmentally appropriate things and then teach them to the kids as they mature so that they do have an understanding of what the world is and its complexities. That includes talking about things like sexual orientation and talking about gender identity.”

Dutton: “Transgender kids have far higher rates of suicide than cisgendered kids. What kinds of supports do trans kids need to survive?”

Dungavell: “The most important thing that any trans kid needs to decrease their risk of suicide to the same level as any other kid out there is a very supportive family. We have to have families involved for these kids to have their best outcomes. There are unfortunately some kids whose parents just can’t do that. School might be the safest place, to explore their identity, to talk to a safe adult about this instead of just talking to strangers on the internet.

“We want schools to be a safe place for that to happen, to have private conversations with safe, well-educated adults that have experience having these conversations with people. The kids need to be able to do that without risking that their parents will be told at home, they might be kicked out, they might be physically abused, they might be made to feel unsafe in other ways. We want to make sure that these kids aren’t made more at risk.”

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Dutton: “Some parents are saying kids are simply too young to know or learn about their gender identity. In your expert opinion, what’s the age? Is this a concern?”

Dungavell: “It’s usually somewhere in the range of, say, like 11 to 14-ish. For kids in this age range, puberty is just starting, and we can actually pause puberty (through puberty blockers) and they can keep developing their brain so they can continue to develop more complex, abstract reasoning, think more deeply about these topics, really engage with who they want to be in the world, how they want to be in their body, and then start making permanent decisions when they’re actually quite a bit older.

“A lot of folks are quite afraid because they love their children, and they don’t understand about trans things. They’re afraid we’re going to make permanent changes when kids are just babies and can’t make these decisions. But we’re not. We’re actually waiting quite a while until they’re quite a bit older and able to think more clearly about these decisions.”

Dutton: “When we look at the rules, given the province has indicated it’s not changing these new rules, what do you see as a path forward?”

Dungavell: “What they’re effectively saying is that they’re not going to let the teachers be that safe adult for their children. Organizations like LB Saskatoon or the Sexual Health Center or other places are going to have to work harder to make sure that kids do have safe places where they can talk to safe adults. But they aren’t in schools that aren’t seeing the kids all the time. They don’t have the ability to be present and be a support the way that teachers do.

“I think the best way forward is that the province does change these rules because they’re making things less safe for our children who we love and who we want good things for. If my kids don’t feel comfortable talking to me about something, I sure as heck want them to have an educator to talk to who’s trained to talk to kids instead of that kid feeling really alone and not having anyone to reach out to.”


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