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Queer and trans kids exist. I know because I was one. Growing up in Macklin, Sask., (pop. 1,200) my experience as a transgender woman was a silent journey of shame, self-discovery and acceptance. Despite having kind, loving parents, I navigated gender dysphoria alone, unable to share this particular part of myself with them. It would be 20 years before I came out to them. Over that time, I would launch a career, get married, buy a house and have kids of my own, all the while hoping that the voice inside me (“Am I trans?”) would go away. It never did, until one day the levee finally broke and I decided, with great personal pain and disruption to my family, to start living as a transgender woman.

Navigating my gender identity in a community where such conversations were unheard of was lonely, leading to bouts of depression and anxiety. My decision to come out in my mid-30s was partially driven by internal exhaustion from living a life that was a lie but also a confidence that the societal conversation around queer and trans people was evolving in a positive direction. I still believe we’ve made strides with LGBTQ rights but progress is not linear.

The “parental rights” policies announced by Alberta Premier Danielle Smith are worrying, specifically the changes requiring parental notification and consent for a school to alter the name or pronouns of a child aged 15 and under (and notification for 16 or 17 year olds). These announcements were made in the shadow of similar policies being enacted in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan that require school administrators receive parental support before using a student’s preferred name and pronouns.

These policies are presented as narrow, common-sense solutions focused on parental rights but they’re also a signal to those who feel uncomfortable with a generational shift in our understanding of gender and sexual identity.

I recently talked to my mom about why I didn’t tell her I was trans when I was in school. Staring at each other with tears in our eyes, I could guess how she was feeling: confusion and sadness over my inability to tell her despite the love I felt throughout my childhood. “I knew you loved me. I just wasn’t ready. I was hoping it would go away,” I said.

My failure to express this deep secret wasn’t the consequence of some parenting decision. I simply wasn’t ready to share with my parents. It was too disruptive to the core of my world. I’ve been thinking about the “parental rights” discussion through the lens of what a difference it would have made to have another trusted adult (a teacher, coach or counsellor) to confide in during this time. Someone to shuffle my feet in front of, eyes looking down at the floor, mumbling about my complicated feelings around gender. Maybe it could have offered a way of reducing the pressure and shame I was feeling inside. Then, perhaps I could have found a way to work through these feelings and talk to my parents when I was ready.

While I empathize with parents’ desire to protect their children, these policies risk limiting the crucial support systems outside the family that children might need. The fear that these policies across Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick could force gender-diverse youth to choose between hiding their true selves or risk the consequences of being outed is deeply troubling.

As a parent, I understand the instinct to protect our children. Our family is somewhat unique in that my kids have two moms, one of whom is transgender. We are not, however, unique in the love we have for our kids as well as the anxiety of seeing them explore the world on their own. “It’s like living with your heart outside your body,” I remember my mom saying when I texted her from the emergency room while waiting hours to see the doctor with my eldest son.

A mentor of mine once told me that we “parent to prepare, not to protect” and this idea has radically changed how I engage with my kids. As a result, raising my children has been a process of discovery, not about who I assume they are or want them to be, but who they genuinely are in all their complexity. Creating an environment where they can openly communicate with me is my responsibility. It’s a task I struggle with every day.

The debate on children’s rights, parental roles and educational policies is complex. Yet, at its heart, it’s about ensuring a world where every child feels supported, understood and loved – both at home and in the wider community. These new policies introduced in Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick will make trans kids less safe and parents who are trying to do right by their trans kids, more afraid as they navigate a world that seems to care about them less than they deserve.

Teachers, counsellors and mentors can offer additional support, and this support network is crucial for children, particularly those exploring their gender identity as I once did. We owe trans and gender diverse kids and teens a different future, one that puts their well-being above our own discomfort with change.

Ellie McDine lives in Edmonton.

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