Students across Regina walked out of class on Tuesday to protest Saskatchewan's pronoun policy
Renn Roberts says that Saskatchewan's new pronoun policy is not a good idea, saying it will stop children in the province from experiencing the support Roberts was able to receive as a transgender student at school.
The Grade 10 student at Balfour Collegiate said the provincial government is choosing to not trust youth by invoking the notwithstanding clause to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code in order to protect its policy from legal challenges.
"School is supposed to be a safe space. And it was for me when I first came out. I came out at school before I came out at home and that was, it was like an escape for me," said Renn, 15.
"I was able to try things out and really make sure that I was confident in myself before I told other people, and now that's not an option anymore."
Saskatchewan's Bill 137 would require teachers and school employees to seek permission from parents or guardians before using the "new gender-related preferred name or gender identity" of a student under the age of 16.
The bill would have changed Renn's experience at school — even though it was a decision that the teenager and their father believe is exactly what was needed.
"I wanted to try out my name at school before I really felt sure of it. Because I just didn't want to cause any confusion and mostly I just didn't want to get outed. So I started at school because it was the safest option," said Renn.
Renn said they believed their parents would support them, but were afraid how other members in the extended family would react.
Blair Roberts said he can understand why parents want to be involved in their children's lives.
Blair said he immediately felt sad once he found out that Renn had first told a teacher about transitioning.
"Once I put my ego aside and recognize that it's not about what I need, it's about what my kid needs to feel safe and secure, it was very easy for me to see what happened and be very grateful to their teacher for honouring their request to not talk to us," he told CBC.
"In our view, we're just grateful for that safe place for our kid and it's really sad that the [Saskatchewan Party] is trying to take it away from them."
Renn said frustration over the legislation left them with little choice but to take part in a student walkout on Tuesday.
The protesters opposed the provincial government and its incoming legislation, which is all but guaranteed to pass due to the Saskatchewan Party's majority in the legislature.
Approximately two dozen students walked out from Balfour Collegiate, while students from Dr. Martin LeBoldus Catholic High School, Campbell Collegiate and F.W. Johnson Collegiate and other schools also took part.
The students gathered at the provincial legislature to show their displeasure with the provincial government.
Alex Perron, 16, was one of the other students from Balfour Collegiate that took part in the walkout.
When Perron transitioned, they were able to do so while supported by their family and friends. Others are not so lucky, he said.
"That's why, before I came out to my parents, being able to go by the name and pronouns that I did at school did so much for my mental health," Perron said.
Renn said coming out isn't easy and it carries risks.
"I know what it's like to be outed. It's not safe," they said.
"Certain people's families could kick them out, they could hurt them, they could be verbally, mentally, even physically abusive. It's really not safe to just out people like that."
In Renn's view, that's exactly what will happen under the new legislation.
"It's made my existence a lot more controversial than it used to be. I used to be able to just kind of go around and be another student and now I have to be this advocate. And I feel this pressure to advocate for the people who can't advocate for themselves," they said.
Blair is an employee of the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan, which is an intervenor in the court case that attempted to challenge the provincial policy.
Blair said he can not be more proud of his child and the others who decided to walk out on Tuesday.
"These kids should not be the one to bear the burden of this harmful policy though. It's frustrating to me that this pressure has to be put on my kid, [that] it has to be put on all of these kids," he said.
Regina Public Schools and Regina Catholic Schools said any child who made the decision to walk out of class on Tuesday will be marked as absent. The division will not implement any other special procedures in response to the protest.
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