Members of Alberta’s United Conservative Party are set to wade into pronoun politics at their upcoming convention.
Among the resolutions to be debated at next month’s UCP AGM is a policy on whether parents should have to consent for their children to change their gender and pronouns at school.
The UCP AGM will take place in Calgary Nov. 3 and 4, its first convention since Premier Danielle Smith was elected. Members will debate 30 policy proposals.
One of the most contentious topics on the agenda is a resolution surrounding gender pronouns in schools, which has sparked intense discussions within and outside the party.
The pronoun resolution, proposed by the Edmonton-West Henday UCP constituency, suggests that teachers, schools, and school boards should require written consent from parents or guardians for children under the age of 16 to use a different name or pronoun at school.
“Parents, not schools, are the legal guardians of their children,” the policy states.
The proposal takes inspiration from Saskatchewan’s education minister, who noted, “Schools require a signed permission slip to take children on a field trip so it’s unclear why schools should not require parental consent for identification changes.”
Smith was non-committal on the policy, but said her caucus is looking into it.
“These are really complicated family matters (and) very personal decisions.” She added, “It’s incumbent upon us as adults to make sure that we keep a safe, supportive environment for kids,” she said.
Party policy resolutions are non-binding, meaning the UCP government would not be required to act on the policy if it passes.
“The policy process is one of the measures that our cabinet and caucus use in making a decision, but we also confer with stakeholders, and we also talk to Alberta,” said Smith. “I want to see how the debate goes, and then we’ll make some decisions once we see whether or not (the policy) passes.”
Another policy proposal supports a “comprehensive Bill of Parental Rights which ensures that all legislation will recognize and support parents’ rights to be informed of an in-charge of all decisions to do with all services paid by the province, including education and health care.”
Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, expressed concerns regarding framing policies related to parental rights. “They’ve set a trap with parental rights as a political argument,” she said, according to the Canadian Press.
Smith said, “It had been my hope from the beginning that we wouldn’t politicize this.”
Kristopher Wells, Canada research chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth, said he’s concerned about a possible loss of safety for LGBTQ+ kids who could be outed to their parents before the children themselves are ready to tell them.
Smith said, “We have to always be mindful as we have these conversations that there are young people who are really struggling with gender identity, they’re struggling with puberty, struggling with how they fit in.”
Other proposed resolutions include policies tying school funding to student enrolment and ensuring school libraries do not provide access to materials of a “sexual, racist, or abusive nature.”
UCP members will also vote on whether to take a policy banning race-based admissions and diversity, equity and inclusion offices at universities and colleges.