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Peter Menzies: Schools Concealing Gender Issues from Parents is an Exercise of Power, not Concern for Safety


It’s something upon which everything depends.

All of our personal relationships need it. Business, even through contracts, still can’t prosper without it. Teammates have to feel it when they ask for cover or backup. Your boss must be confident in it when he assigns you a task, just as you need to be assured he or she will pay you as promised.

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It’s the cement that holds societies together and, these days, it’s on the ropes.

Trust in several of society’s key institutions has been in decline, generally, for the better part of the past decade. Chief among those viewed with increasing suspicion are governments and mainstream media.

And that’s not good.

Without trust, the key component in social capital, we can’t build the healthy relationships required for emotional and economic flourishing. As political scientist and author Francis Fukuyama once put it in a paper for the International Monetary Fund: “Social capital is important to the efficient functioning of modern economies, and is the sine qua non of stable liberal democracy.”

So why are our leaders so determined to undermine it instead of building it? Why are they toiling to create hurtful societal divisions instead of seeking to heal them? I am referring, specifically, to the wild rhetoric around whether schools should be obliged to inform parents if their child declares a new gender identity and asks their teacher to refer to them by a new name.

Somewhere along the line, a great many school boards—without consultation—made the outrageous and incompetent decision that no parent could be trusted with this information. Outrageous because school boards fundamentally exist to serve parents and not vice versa.

Incompetent because, think about it, if John tells his teacher that he now wants to be called Joan, it’s not as if no one will know that John is now Joan once the new words come into use. Their transition/coming out will inevitably become a lively topic of conversation within their class, then the broader school, and then the neighbourhood.

It’s highly likely, in fact, that should the school decide to harbour this “secret,” the last people to learn of it—and they will learn of it—will be Joan’s parents. And that is a humiliating and potentially volatile scenario that serves no one’s needs or interests.

Implementation of reasonable guidelines, along the lines of those recently contemplated in the UK, would lead to far more sensible outcomes. There, it’s been suggested that should a child wish to come out at school and request an identity change, parents must be engaged.

The student, upon notifying their teacher of their wishes, would first be asked to undertake a period of reflection for several weeks before making a final, formal request. A meeting would then be arranged with parents and, should the student feel their safety is at risk, appropriate steps would be taken to ensure no one comes to harm.

Such a cooperative and respectful process during an emotional time for everyone actually builds trust and is far safer than waiting for mom and dad to hear about it from the neighbours—the inevitable outcome of the secret-keeping approach. Only the most naive fool would think it possible to be “out” at school without parents ever learning of it.

Seventy-eight percent of Canadians agree that parents must be part of these conversations, according to an Aug. 28 Angus Reid poll, while only 14 percent feel they shouldn’t. Eight percent are undecided.

That’s a number that inspired premiers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba to follow the lead of New Brunswick in respecting the inescapable fact that parents are their children’s primary caregivers.

But that hasn’t stopped others from ghoulishly portraying parents as the primary threat to their children.

Marci Ien, federal minister for women, gender equality, and youth, went so far as to state that Saskatchewan’s position puts transgender and non-binary kids in a “life or death” situation. Following her logic, we are to believe parents represent a societal menace capable of murdering or causing their child’s suicide—an accusation so overwrought it borders on hysteria.

Commentators are now using scare quotes around “parental rights” as if they were some sort of far-right fiction when they are, in fact, long established and cast in stone within the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The family, with all its flaws,

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