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Beth Lyons is the executive director of the New Brunswick Women’s Council.

Across North America, there have been attempts to remove queer and trans-affirming books from libraries. Drag story times are being protested. Pride flags outside of churches and private residences are being torn down.

Many participants in this backlash against LGBTQ people claim they are opposing a radical plan to indoctrinate children and groom them for sexual abuse. In reality, children’s safety and well-being are being used as a cover to advance an agenda of hatred – which is now seeping into Canada’s political system.

Last week, New Brunswick’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development released a new version of its policy on sexual orientation and gender identity. Policy 713, which has been in place since August, 2020, “sets minimum requirements for school districts and public schools to create a safe, welcoming, inclusive, and affirming school environment” for all who identify as (or may be perceived to be) LGBTQ.

While a few of the changes are positive (such as a requirement for schools to have private change rooms), the majority of changes are cause for concern – particularly ones that relate to the ability of trans students to specify what name and pronouns should be used for them if they are under 16.

While the policy itself is vague on this point, the province’s Education Minister, Bill Hogan, has told the CBC that school staff “don’t have a choice to comply with [student] wishes, they have to have parental consent” to honour requests around names and pronouns if the student is under 16.

The government has consistently defended this change by citing parents’ rights and the fact that teachers are in a position of public trust with parents. For weeks, Premier Blaine Higgs has expressed concern over his perception that parents are increasingly sidelined in children’s lives. Mr. Hogan has also bluntly stated that “children don’t belong to the state.”

But children also don’t belong to their parents, as if they are property. That’s why human rights extend to children directly, and the reason that New Brunswick is among the many jurisdictions with legislative and policy commitments to act in the best interest of the child.

Trans students are a tiny minority within schools. They face unique challenges, including being more than five times more likely to be suicidal than their cisgender peers owing to intersecting factors such as discrimination, social rejection and lack of support. While it may be difficult for some parents to accept, allowing trans students to be affirmed by school personnel is in the child’s best interest. Trans children and youth often come out at school to experience affirmation from their peers and staff before coming out to their families for good reason: the stakes of family rejection are very high, as evidenced by the fact that as many as 40 per cent of homeless youth in Canada are LGBTQ. While parental support for trans kids is ideal, it’s often denied – and school staff can play a critical role in mitigating the risk.

The policy updates block an essential path for trans students to prepare to come out to their families. Trans kids under 16 who aren’t ready to do so will now face a terrible ultimatum: come out to your family, or endure being misgendered and deadnamed by the very people whose support can be life-saving.

And those students who decide not to come out? They’re still trans, and their parents still don’t know it – the only difference is that those students will be at higher risk of bullying, self-harm and suicide.

This risk is why the government’s claims about teachers’ positions of public trust don’t hold up. If teachers will be compelled to misgender and deadname trans students, the government is asking them to violate public trust. No amount of guidance, social work, or psychological services in schools will mitigate that harm.

An organized far-right movement is on the rise, making homophobic and transphobic claims influenced by misinformation, and the New Brunswick government appears to be falling into its thrall. Indeed, when the province’s child and youth advocate dug into the public concerns that Mr. Hogan said led to the review of Policy 713, he found only three e-mails – each one full of far-right talking points.

The influence of that movement also explains why the public discussion has found politicians veering into topics that are unrelated to Policy 713, but are connected under this ideology. As part of the debate, Mr. Higgs and Mr. Hogan have weighed in on drag story time in public libraries and the province’s sex-ed curriculum; Policy 713 has nothing to do with either.

The revisions are harmful because they are not really about parents’ rights or protecting children. They don’t just affect a small group of students in one province, either; this is about a rising far-right movement appearing to make new inroads to power in Canada.

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