Open Letter Regarding the Parental Rights Clause in Bill 44

(Permission is granted to distribute this as widely as people see fit)

To: Honourable Lindsay Blackett, MLA Calgary-Northwest, Minister of Culture
CC: Premier Ed Stelmach,
Ms. Rachel Notley
Dr. David Swann
The People of Alberta
The Alberta Teachers’ Association
The Pride Centre of Edmonton
Calgary Outlink

Mr. Blackett, please tell me how my very existence is such poison to society that we dare not teach children that transgender people of non-Christian faiths are out there and should be respected as human beings?

That, of course, is the lesson of the parental rights provision in Bill 44: that any acknowledgment of persons like myself are so dangerous that they should not be mentioned in schools without serious precautions taken and notice given so that children may be evacuated first.

I support a parent’s right to teach their children and guide them, but it is dangerous to make this right infinite or to shield children from other views that might invite critical thinking. There is currently a child custody case taking place in Winnipeg involving a White Supremacist household that demonstrates just how far this can be taken, if people are given the opportunity:

“’She told me that what people don’t understand is that black people should die,’ the social worker said….” (“Girl taught black people should die, court hears,” CP,25th May 2009)

As the Minister overseeing the Human Rights Commission in Alberta, surely you understand that the purpose of such an entity is to provide a watchdog that will prevent a majority from marginalizing, erasing, stigmatizing, isolating, shaming minorities or disregarding their rights. Human Rights Commissions (and to some degree, also courts) have an obligation to remember that the majority will is not always socially ethical, and that 9 out of 10 can be wrong. This provision, however, goes a sobering length to impose the tyranny of the majority, rather than protect from it.

We have seen over the past months that the Alberta Government is taking specific counsel from religious leaders on matters such as health care, human rights and even the environmental and community impact of oil sands development, roles that used to be occupied by medical professionals, ethicists and scientists. Those religious leaders will tell you that transsexuality is a choice and therefore I should not be protected as a minority (indeed, it was the Alberta Government’s decision on Tuesday to deny me specific inclusion in the Human Rights Act). I can attest that the only “choice” I ever had was between transition, suicide and stuffing my identity away and living in a suffocating state that resulted in depression, suicide ideation and an inability to function in society. And after nearly 40 years of attempting the latter, that was no longer a reasonable choice.

A person’s religion, however, is a choice. And the Human Rights Act protects that.

As someone who is both transgender and Metis, I have run afoul of male privilege, white privilege, heteronormative privilege and cisgender (strict gender-binary) privilege. I’ve learned that I have enough energy to only complain about the most important things, but at the same time am keenly aware of many intersecting areas of discrimination. Consequently, I’m equally alarmed at how other communities are also potentially adversely affected by this provision. As the Pope made clear in a speech around Christmas (and on several other occasions), many feminist teachings are a violation of Catholic beliefs. While it may seem preposterous that this provision could be used against teaching something like womens’ rights, religious leaders and community organizations such as Brian Rushfeldt (Canada Family Action Coalition) are already encouraging parents to use it as broadly as possible, to assert their faiths:

“‘It’s up to the parent to make (the legislation) as broad or as narrow as they want,’ said Rushfeldt, who welcomed the proposed changes.” (“Parents must get say in all teaching, group says”, The Edmonton Journal; Calgary Herald, May 7, 2009)

There are also the rights of youth to consider. This provision essentially makes the right of children and youth to learn and make decisions for themselves legally subject to a parental veto. This provision potentially denies them education that will add to their ability to develop critical thinking. It also sends a strong signal to gay and trans youth that they, too, are so poisonous to society that people need to be protected from them, thus pushing them toward stuffing their identities away, and living in that same suffocating state that I could not.

Your consulting religious leaders will say I have an agenda, that the gay and trans communities are out to indoctrinate kids into our “lifestyles.” Indeed, your own caucus member, Ted Morton, once described the perceived “gay-feminist” movement as a “social engineering project … to undermine the existing family” In reality, it would be of no benefit to me or to the trans community to do so, and because I see most gay and trans paths as immutable, it would be futile to try. However, for those kids already coming to their own realizations of being gay or trans, I maintain empathy for them. This is because I remember my own childhood in which it was forbidden in my conservative school and Fundamentalist home to discuss transsexuality in any kind of sympathetic light, thus generating years of shame and sheer hatred of self.

Human Rights Commissions recognize that hate speech is never free, in that it marginalizes and drives communities into silence, terror and hiding, and creates environments in which it gradually becomes acceptable to do violence to them. And yet, in a bitter irony, the parental rights clause is making Alberta’s Human Rights Commission a vehicle for driving gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, non-Christian and feminist people into hiding.

Please tell me how we are to be handled in classes addressing bullying, a serious issue still being addressed across Canada? Certainly, sexual orientation, gender identity and different religious backgrounds will be mentioned as reasons that some kids choose to bully others — these will not be “incidental” or “indirect” references. Are we to be left out of anti-bullying teaching (thus implicitly endorsing violence on us through indifference), or are notices to go out to ensure that some children can be exempted and will never have to learn about why bullying is wrong?

Lobby groups have been pushing for parental rights clauses like this for nearly two decades across North America, and they have not been enacted until today. There is a reason for that. As the pioneer who is championing this legislation, it is now up to you to tell us why certain people are so dangerous that the Human Rights Commission needs to protect children from knowing of our existence, and to ensure that some are not educated as to why it is reasonable to respect us and coexist.

Mercedes Allen

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