Transgender allies gather in Calgary and Edmonton to rally against proposed government policies

Protesters gathered in both Calgary and Edmonton Saturday to support the province’s transgender community and express their dissatisfaction with new measures proposed by Premier Danielle Smith related to the province’s student gender identity, sports and surgery policies. 

In Edmonton, hundreds of activists, allies and members of the transgender community gathered at Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park in Old Strathcona.

In Calgary, over a thousand people attended the protest in front of city hall.

Rowan Morris, who is with Trans Rights YEG, one of the groups behind the Edmonton rally, said the proposed policies are not only harmful to trans youth, but to the entire trans community in Alberta. 

“Knowing that there’s youth who are going to be growing up in an environment where they’re not safe, and knowing the statistics behind gender-affirming care, we’re here today because what is happening is absolutely not OK,” said Morris. 

Morris, who uses the pronouns he/him and they/them, said that the Alberta he fell in love with when he moved to the province in 2015 has changed. 

‘A complete stifling of who we are’

“I felt like I came to my first day of high school and it was fine being new because everyone had been new before, everyone had been different before,” Morris said.

“But I don’t feel that anymore in Alberta today. I don’t feel this welcoming for people who are different. I don’t feel this appreciation for individuality. What I’m feeling right now is a complete rollback on trans and queer rights, and a complete stifling of who we are as people.”

Eddie Punko, who attended the rally in Edmonton, said he was devastated after hearing about the proposed policies. 

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“There’s so many kids I work with [who] are so excited to explore their identity and grow up. But these kinds of policies make it really hard to think about even growing up and becoming an adult when it’s so hard to just exist as a person.”

Punko added that part of the reason he attended the rally was to spread joy amid uncertainty. 

“Whatever policies get put in place [that say] you don’t deserve to be safe, we’re all here to say that you do and that we love you so much,” he said, addressing the transgender community.

In Edmonton, allies of the transgender community rallied in Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park in Old Strathcona. (Charles Delisle/Radio-Canada)

James Demers, a transgender man and an organizer of the rally in Calgary with the group Queer Citizens United, said the demonstration was about creating a show of solidarity with those who oppose the proposed policies.

“Rather than protesting a specific action, this is about creating a demonstration of love for the community, so that the sense of isolation and loneliness which is trying to be accomplished through this legislation is combated,” said Demers.

“Its extremely draconian legislation, even in the context of other provinces who have attempted to similarly discriminate against gender-diverse people. Is the queer community surprised that the UCP [government] is attacking us through legislation? Not even remotely … [The UCP] will not and have not made any effort to change.”

Leah Zurbrigg said it was important to her to attend the rally in Calgary to share her support of transgender youth and adults alike. 

“It’s really crazy important that we stand up and get this fixed, because this is not something that we can let stand,” said Zurbrigg.

“I have a lot of trans friends who I value very deeply and I know people who are in dangerous situations at home, and the fact that they could be outed puts them and their lives at risk. So I can’t just sit and watch.”

A man holds a microphone and wears a leather jacket.
James Demers at the protest in Calgary in front of city hall. Over a thousand people attended. (Helen Pike/CBC)

A small number of representatives from the group 1 Million March 4 Children, which opposes gender identity education in schools, was also present in Calgary to demonstrate support for the premier’s proposed policies.

On Thursday, Smith said her government will introduce legislation this fall to support the planned policy changes affecting transgender and non-binary youth and adults.

The measures being proposed are:

  • Top and bottom surgeries will be banned for minors aged 17 and under. Doctors say bottom surgeries aren’t performed on youth and top surgeries are rare.
  • Puberty blockers and hormone therapies for gender affirmation will not be permitted for children aged 15 and under.
  • Youths aged 16 and 17 will be permitted to start hormone therapies for gender affirmation “as long as they are deemed mature enough” and have parental, physician and psychologist approval.
  • Parental notification and consent will be required for a school to alter the name or pronouns of any child under age 15. Students who are 16 or 17 won’t need permission but schools will need to let their parents know first.
  • Parents will have to “opt-in” their children every time a teacher plans to teach about gender identity, sexual orientation or sexuality. Alberta law currently requires parental notification and gives them the option to opt students out.
  • All third-party teaching materials on gender identity, sexual orientation or sexuality will need to be approved in advance by the education ministry.
  • Transgender women will be banned from competing in women’s sports leagues. Smith said the government will work with leagues to set up coed or gender-neutral divisions for sports.

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