As we launch our Twitter campaign #protectABkids, many people have asked us to clarify – who are you protecting? What are you protecting them from?
There are many answers to this question, but for today let us focus on one.
Proponents of the guidelines often use protection of LGBTQ children as one of their primary messages.
Statistics quoted by Dr. Kristopher Wells include: “Contemporary research indicates that between 20 and 40 per cent of all homeless youth are LGBTQ. When your schools are not safe spaces, your homes are not welcoming and churches are not affirming, where do you go?”
According to another article, “Eggen said last week students from the QSA at Red Deer’s Lindsay Thurber School … told him the work Alberta Education is doing to support LGBTQ students has the potential to save lives.”
Protection is indeed a laudable goal and one we should all aspire to.
In the same interests of protecting our children, including those who identify as LGBTQ, many people have been voicing concerns in reference to various sections of the guidelines document. One of those concerns relates to an indicator of best practice appearing on page 5 of the guidelines :
“No student or family should be referred to programs which purport to ‘fix,’ ‘change’ or ‘repair’ a student’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” (p. 5)
An article from the Globe and Mail provides a perspective from child psychiatrist Susan Bradley, who “was a pioneer in treating kids with gender-identity disorders”, starting in the 1970s. I highly encourage people to read the article in its entirety. Here is an excerpt:
The new rush to turn little Jason into Janey, or Sally into Sam, is generally regarded (in the media, at least) as progress – proof of what a tolerant and progressive society we’ve become. But what if it’s just another fad? What if the radical step of changing genders isn’t always the right answer for a child’s emotional distress – especially when that child is only 10 or 6, or 3?
“Some of these kids are quite significantly ill,” says Dr. Bradley. “They often have serious family problems and anxiety disorders. Or they’ve had serious trauma. A girl I saw had been raped, and after that she decided she was going to be a male. If you didn’t pay attention to the trauma you’re not doing that kid a service.”
Similarly, an article in Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, also suggests that medical professionals must consider many variables when faced with children exhibiting gender nonconformity:
“The pediatrician who observes gender nonconformity should address the issue straightforwardly and look for a number of associated psychosocial problems including abuse, PTSD, difficulty in school, depression, or increased anxiety. Referral to and working with the mental health professional provides a good safety net for the child as he/she struggles with exploration of gender orientation, gender, and gender role as well as the related conditions.”
“The Endocrine Society and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health have published similar guidelines for the evaluation and treatment of gender-variant children. These guidelines make it clear that prepubertal children should usually not change gender before puberty because most of them will take another life path, often to homosexuality.”
As acknowledged in both articles, issues related to gender identity and sexual orientation are often complex.
This complexity is powerfully exemplified through the personal life journey shared by Walt Heyer. He details the abuse he suffered as a child and how his persisting gender confusion resulted in a sex-reassignment surgery that brought even more distress and regret. Here are excerpts from his story:
“The reprieve provided by surgery and life as a woman was only temporary. Hidden deep underneath the make-up and female clothing was the little boy carrying the hurts from traumatic childhood events, and he was making himself known. Being a female turned out to be only a cover-up, not healing.”
…“Now it was apparent that I had developed a dissociative disorder in childhood to escape the trauma of the repeated cross-dressing by my grandmother and the sexual abuse by my uncle. That should have been diagnosed and treated with psychotherapy. Instead, the gender specialist never considered my difficult childhood or even my alcoholism and saw only transgender identity. It was a quick jump to prescribe hormones and irreversible surgery. Years later, when I confronted that psychologist, he admitted that he should not have approved me for surgery.”
… “Coming back to wholeness as a man after undergoing unnecessary gender surgery and living life legally and socially as a woman for years wasn’t going to be easy. I had to admit to myself that going to a gender specialist when I first had issues had been a big mistake. I had to live with the reality that body parts were gone. My full genitalia could not be restored—a sad consequence of using surgery to treat psychological illness. Intensive psychotherapy would be required to resolve the dissociative disorder that started as a child.
In the end we must ask ourselves:
Are children in Alberta schools best “protected” by a blanket approach that institutionalizes one perspective to the exclusion of all other options?
Is it in the best interests of protecting the health and well-being of all children, especially those who exhibit gender nonconformity, to actively encourage a dissociation of biological sex from psychological gender identity?
We must advocate for a more thoughtful, balanced approach that acknowledges the unique context and situation of each child. In the name of protection, school board policies must reflect a willingness to explore a variety of options in order to find the best way to support each individual child.
To learn more about widespread concerns Albertans have regarding the protection of legal and parental rights in the context of the guidelines document, please also watch an informative video session recorded recently from the perspective of a lawyer.
*Please note the above post has been significantly edited due to comments and concerns that the more “socially conservative” nature of the previously cited American College of Pediatricians compromised the legitimacy of their medical research. Though I personally question the assumption in popular culture that one bias (i.e. being more “liberal” or more “socially conservative) is more credible than another, I nevertheless felt it was best to reference different articles to make the same point, rather than relying too heavily on a source that may be considered more controversial and risk undermining the content of the message.