LEDUC, Alta. — Sixteen-year-old Aspen Cervo says he began thinking about a student walkout over the Alberta government’s planned policies around transgender youth right after Premier Danielle Smith announced them last week.
The Grade 10 student at Leduc Composite High School says his 13-year-old brother is transgender and the walkout is meant to show him and others they’re supported.
Smith has said the fall sitting of the legislature would bring new rules, including restrictions on youth changing their names or pronouns at school and getting hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery.
She has said the goal of the policies is to ensure children are “fully informed” about the decisions they are making because they might regret them later in life.
The policies have spurred several days of protest — both at the grassroots level and from groups like the Alberta Medical Association.
Cervo says the walkout at his school is to last half an hour, and he’s in touch with students at other schools who say they’re planning to do the same to oppose the proposed changes.
“I’m lucky to grow up in a household where it’s safe to be whoever I want to be, but not all kids are lucky like that,” Cervo told The Canadian Press in an interview, adding he knows some others who aren’t as fortunate.
“Some get rejected or kicked out, and it really hurts you when your own parents basically tell you you’re not their kid anymore.”
Cervo says he used to be transgender but now considers himself gender-fluid. He says he goes by “he,” mostly, but it sometimes changes.
When asked whether his fluidity could support arguments that youth who receive gender-affirming care could later change their minds, Cervo points out that no one in Alberta is getting genital reconstruction surgery before 18 because it’s such a big change.
Other types of gender-affirming care, such as hormone therapy that his brother has been waiting for to change his voice, are decisions that Cervo feels his brother and others his age are old enough to make for themselves.
“He’s been waiting for gender-affirming care for two years now and these policies are going to have to make him wait until he’s at least 16,” Cervo said.
“He’s been waiting for so long and now he’s going to have to wait longer.”
Smith has said gender reassignment surgery would be banned for those 17 and under. And there would be no puberty blockers or hormone therapies for the purpose of gender reassignment or affirmation for anyone 15 and under, unless they’ve already begun such treatments.
Parental consent would be required for students 15 and under who want to change their names or pronouns at school. Students 16 and 17 would not need consent, but their parents would have to be notified.
Smith, in defending her proposals during a trip to Ottawa on Monday, said there is no “single voice” that can speak on behalf of the entire transgender community. She said she has spoken to some transgender people who expressed concerns about the ability of children to transition at a young age.
“We had to have a conversation about what is the appropriate ages to be able to make those life-altering decisions,” she said.
Cervo said the protests over the weekend against the proposed changes gave him hope.
“It made me happy that other people are standing up, too,” he said.
— by Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2024.
The Canadian Press