Premier Danielle Smith says discussions about LGBTQ2 policies in Alberta schools will happen in the coming weeks.
Her comments on Thursday come a day after “1MillionMarch4Children” demonstrations drew out thousands of protesters across Canada – with more than a dozen rallies held in Alberta. The protests also spurred large counter-protests.
Organizers said the demonstrations are about “standing together against gender ideology in schools,” a reference to sexual orientation and gender identity programs being taught in some school divisions.
Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan, a member of the United Conservative Party’s caucus, was a keynote at such an event in Red Deer Wednesday morning.
“While this event seeks to affirm the sacred relationship of parent and child, some will seek to frame this gathering in a hateful way,” Stephan is heard saying to a cheering crowd in a video captured by rdnewsNOW.
Critics believe the protests set a damaging narrative, and say it is disappointing to see a politician speak at the rally.
“It’s critical that leaders are speaking out and denouncing this kind of discrimination that is targeting a vulnerable community and particularly vulnerable young people,” said Kristopher Wells, an associate professor at MacEwan University and the Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth.
The UCP told Global News that MLAs may speak to these issues on behalf of their constituents.
“Our caucus supports peaceful protest and open, grassroots debate on the issues affecting Albertans,” the party said in an email.
When asked about the protests Thursday, Smith said she does not want to politicize the issue.
“I think every kid needs to feel safe and protected and needs to know they are supported in their choices,” she said. “So we are trying to find the right balance and depoliticize it, but I respect the right of people.”
However, Wells argues it is already a political issue.
“When you’re talking about trying to erase an entire community’s right to exist and to tell 2SLGBTQ+ young people to be silent, invisible, to go back into the closet out of fear and hatred, that’s absolutely political,” he said.
In June, New Brunswick announced changes to its LGBTQ2 policies for schools, requiring parental consent before teachers used preferred pronouns or names of transgender or non-binary students under 16.
Saskatchewan plans to introduce a similar law this fall. In Manitoba, that province’s government has included the issue in its election platform.
“We have to look at where these changes are coming from, a series of far-right conservative governments,” Wells said.
Wells noted the policies have been met with pushback and court challenges.
As for whether Alberta will follow suit with the other provinces, the UCP said it has not made any decisions on LGBTQ2 policies in schools yet, but the premier says discussions are coming.
“I haven’t had a chance to speak to my caucus since that change was made, but I’m sure that it will be a discussion that will happen in the coming weeks,” Smith said in a statement.