What is New Brunswick's LGBTQ student controversy all about?

Arabnews24.ca:Tuesday 27 June 2023 06:31 PM: New Brunswick's premier has been facing turmoil in his own party. LGBTQ students and advocates have protested. Even the prime minister and the official Opposition leader have weighed in.

What is Policy 713 and why has it dominated New Brunswick news headlines for two months?

Here's a primer.

What is the policy?

Policy 713, introduced in August 2020, set minimum standards for New Brunswick schools to provide a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for LGBTQ students. 

Its original version allowed all students to be referred to by their preferred pronouns and names without involving their parents. Teachers had to get consent from the students before sharing that information with their family.

The policy became a source of controversy in early May when Premier Blaine Higgs's Progressive Conservatives confirmed they had been reviewing the policy.

About three weeks ago, the government announced the results of the review and changes they would make.

A man in suit and tie and wearing glasses speaks.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is seen speaking to media outside Government House following a cabinet shuffle in Fredericton on Tuesday. Higgs had faced a revolt from some members of his cabinet, partially due to changes made to a policy meant to protect LGBTQ students. (Stephen MacGillivray/The Canadian Press)

How is Policy 713 changing?

It is no longer mandatory for teachers to use the preferred pronouns or names of students under 16.

A student who refuses parental involvement would be referred to a school psychologist or social worker to develop a plan to inform the student's parents "if and when they are ready to do so."

But what Education Minister Bill Hogan said when he announced this change differs from the actual text of the policy.

Hogan said it's now forbidden to respect the chosen name and pronoun of a student under 16, even informally or verbally, without parental consent. He said teachers should wait until the referral process plays out. 

A man with glasses and a goatee and moustache smiles as he sits behind a barrier that says
Education Minister Bill Hogan unveils the highly anticipated changes to Policy 713 on June 8. (Hina Alam/The Canadian Press)

The policy isn't that explicit: there is nothing in the text that forbids teachers from informally using a student's chosen name and pronouns.

The New Brunswick Teachers' Association, the union representing school psychologists and a human rights expert are among those who have said the new wording in Policy 713 doesn't amount to a ban.

There are also two other changes to Policy 713 that have received less attention.

Wording allowing students to participate in extracurricular activities "consistent with their gender identity" was removed. Instead, it only says that students will be able to participate in curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular activities "that are safe and welcoming."

Another change was considered a win for LGBTQ students. A private, universal change room will be available in all schools across the province, in addition to the already mandated gender-neutral washroom.

Why make the changes?

Higgs has said that gender dysphoria — defined as a state of distress caused when a person's gender identity doesn't match their biological sex — has become popular and trendy, especially among young people. He recently suggested there has been a rise in youth with gender dysphoria because elements of society have become accepting of people changing their names and genders.

The premier has said that the changes reflect the government's desire to ensure parents play a role in the "formative years" of their children. "Families are the foundation of our society," he recently told the legislature. "And what we're seeing is that erosion of the family role in children's upbringing."

Hogan, the education minister, has said complaints over the policy number in the "hundreds, at least." But the province's child and youth advocate, Kelly Lamrock, said that when he asked the province for the correspondence that triggered the review, officials sent him copies of three emails, none of which mentioned the policy.

A man in glasses speaks inside a building. A photo collage of the 2020 N.B. Legislature is visible on the wall behind him.
New Brunswick youth and child advocate Kelly Lamrock speaks with reporters at the provincial legislature in Fredericton on June 12. Lamrock has harshly criticized the rationale for the province’s review of its sexual orientation policy in schools. (Hina Alam/The Canadian Press)

What has the reaction been?

Some students and advocates protested when the review was announced, at least three school district councils have passed their own policies that effectively undo the changes and unionized school psychologists and social workers have filed two grievances with the province, saying the changes would make them complicit in harming children.

Lamrock issued a 21-page report calling for the reversal of all major changes to the policy.

And Gail Costello of LGBTQ advocacy group Pride in Education said the changes and Higgs's comments about them are "transphobic."

People holding up pride flag in foreground, legistlative assembly in background.
Opponents of the review of Policy 713 demonstrate outside the New Brunswick Legislature in early June. (Radio-Canada)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in at a Pride event in Toronto about three weeks ago.

"Right now," he said, "trans kids in New Brunswick are being told they don't have the right to be their true selves, that they need to ask permission. Trans kids need to feel safe, not targeted by politicians."

On Tuesday, Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said the prime minister has no business weighing in and called on him to "let parents raise kids."

Higgs says he has the support of many parents.

Also, a conservative Christian group based in British Columbia says the debate is a test case for its efforts to roll back school LGBTQ policies across the country.

Is this why Higgs has been in political trouble?


Progressive Conservative dissidents sat out a recent question period in protest of the changes, and two cabinet ministers later resigned, though complaints cited by politicians and party members about Higgs have mostly focused on his leadership style, which they say ignores expertise and allows little input.

Four cabinet ministers voted against Higgs's wishes on the issue. Dorothy Shephard, who served as social development minister, and Trevor Holder, who had been labour minister both resigned before a cabinet shuffle Tuesday that saw two other dissidents bounced from cabinet.

Arlene Dunn, who was named minister of post-secondary education, training and labour Tuesday, was among those who had previously signed a letter expressing disappointment in the changes to Policy 713.

She stood by that Tuesday.

"I didn't think that we should have touched that," she said.

Higgs's government's mandate ends in October next year.

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