Saskatchewan’s sex education policies harm genderqueer youth like me

Protesters gather in front of the Saskatchewan legislature building to protest the Saskatchewan Party’s new parental inclusion and consent policies on Sept. 2, 2023. Photo by Evie Johnny Ruddy 

"Trans rights are human rights” and “Inclusion saves lives” read banners at a rally in Saskatoon last August protesting the Saskatchewan government’s parental inclusion and consent policies. 

“You are putting youth and children in harm’s way,” Fran Forsberg, mother of two trans children and co-organizer of the rally, told CBC. “Stop this. It’s not in the interest of saving children or making children safe.”

Introduced by the Saskatchewan government on August 22, 2023, the parental inclusion and consent policies require schools to receive parental or guardian permission should a student under the age of 16 want to change their preferred name or pronouns. The policies also keep school boards from collaborating with third-party sexual health education providers.

I’m a 23-year-old asexual and genderqueer person living in Regina. As a graduate of Regina’s public school system, I have directly experienced the harm that inadequate sex ed can have on a queer child and teenager. That’s why I’m writing about my experiences in sex ed class, the harms the government’s policies will cause and perpetuate, and why we need queer- and trans-inclusive sex education.

My experience in sex ed

The first time I was taught sex ed was in Grade 5, in a split class with kids aged 10 to 12. Children can start puberty around age eight, or earlier, in cases of precocious puberty, meaning we were already behind.  Some of my friends already had their period, but the only thing we were taught about menstrual cycles is that they happen about once per month. That was it. 

I received better sex ed in Grade 9. This time, there was more education on menstruation, including a question-and-answer period to address all our “embarrassing” questions. We prepared presentations on different contraceptive methods, learned about consent, and researched and wrote reports on sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections and shared our work with our peers.

These topics are essential to a robust sex ed curriculum, but there was a lot still missing. We barely discussed abortion and miscarriages. There was no information about diseases or medical conditions related to our reproductive systems. Until I taught myself a few months ago, I didn’t know how the process of the uterus shedding the lining during menstruation worked! These are all things that students need to learn in sex ed classes.

Our education on gender and sexuality was also sorely lacking. We learned that people could be straight, gay, or bisexual, and we briefly touched on transness, although with narrow, binary limitations. These rigid ideas about gender and sexuality caused me immense inner turmoil. Until that point, I had never seen myself as having any gender at all and I did not experience any sexual attraction. Those restrictive, binary teachings led me to believe that my gender and sexuality were broken and, thus, that I was broken – something that I had never thought before.

Teachers receive little support to teach sex ed

My sexual education was insufficient and caused me significant harm, but somehow I received more sex education than many of my peers. My best friend had her first sex ed class in high school, and some of my university peers have never had a sex ed class.

Part of the reason for this lack of education is due to insufficient training available to teachers. Julian Wotherspoon, executive director of Planned Parenthood Regina (PPR), says the organization receives many calls from teachers every year in May and June, before the end of the school year, looking for help to teach a sex ed curriculum that they either lack the training to teach or simply do not feel comfortable teaching.

“There are always parts of the curriculum that are considered difficult or maybe a little bit intimidating for educators,” says Wotherspoon. “We do hear from a lot of educators that they just don’t feel comfortable with or prepared to really address some of this material.”

Now, with the parental inclusion and consent policies, the staff at PPR are barred from assisting teachers with in-person classroom help, meaning teachers have fewer resources to help teach students properly and provide necessary sexual health education.

This new policy means more children are doomed to confront the same realities I have. A generation of students won’t understand how their bodies work and won’t learn that it’s okay to be queer and trans. This will have a devastating impact on queer and trans youth, who are already a very vulnerable demographic. Studies have shown that 2SLGBTQIA+ youth are 120 per cent more likely to be homeless than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts, and enacting policies that make queer students feel less safe will only contribute to those statistics. 

On top of that, parents can opt their kids out of sex ed classes, meaning kids won’t learn necessary lessons that the curriculum does include, such as consent. A lack of sexual education is also shown to increase rates of negative sexual outcomes such as teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and intimate partner violence – all of which are present at concerning rates in Saskatchewan. Victims of sexual violence may never come forward, since they never learned those acts are wrong.

A dangerous precedent

Not only do these policies fail queer and trans youth, they put those children’s lives in danger. There are no words to properly express my hatred of and disappointment with the new policies. These policies force 2SLGBTQIA+ youth to hide their true selves. I fear for the children who are going to lose what little sexual education there was to begin with. 

Children will have no choice but to stay in the closet, for fear of their parents or guardians disowning them or trying to convince them they aren’t old enough to know who they are. Even if school had previously been a safe space for queer youth surrounded by accepting peers and teachers for queer youth, that safety and comfort is now being taken away.

The parental inclusion and consent policies are not truly meant to improve sex education in the province like some proponents say. In Wotherspoon’s words: “It’s an easy wedge issue to scare parents and therefore voters.”

“We have generations of students in Saskatchewan who have not received an adequate level of sex education and now some of those people are parents. [They] are seeing their children who have unprecedented access to information and to other people, and they’re nervous about it.”

Wotherspoon assures parents that concern about access to sexual material is valid, but that it should not overshadow or limit what is taught in medically informed, age-appropriate sex education. 

It’s also important to remember that youth can easily encounter explicit sexual material. Viewing this material, especially without receiving fact-based education, can lead to many negative sexual health outcomes, such as affirming negative stereotypes about gender and sex or creating unrealistic attitudes about consent.

“I’m a parent as well, and I get it. But when we have frank conversations about how we keep kids safe in this landscape, it’s really hard to start those conversations with parents who really didn’t get that education themselves, either,” Wotherspoon adds.

Trans- and queer-inclusive education

For a long time, I didn’t have words to explain my sexuality and gender, or lack thereof. I was simply never taught. Kids in Saskatchewan deserve better. They deserve to learn about how their bodies work and be supported when they change their pronouns or express their gender identities at school. 

Organizations such as the Sex Information & Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN) have led research in Canada about sexual health education and what it should look like in Canadian schools. They have developed numerous reports and resources to help educators and policymakers determine the appropriate direction for sex ed. According to SIECCAN’s research, children want better, more comprehensive sex education. Instead, the Saskatchewan government is putting forward policies that will continue to prevent youth from accessing the education they desire. 

That education should start early, according to Wotherspoon, building on concepts over time.

“[Starting to teach] in kindergarten, with concepts of bodily autonomy and about how to ask for consent,” can be beneficial, she says.  “And that doesn’t necessarily mean during sex. It can mean during play, it can mean when you’re roughhousing on the playground. Then building those concepts year after year until you end up with a youth who understands those concepts on a much broader level […] then building into communication about safe sex practices.”

The parental inclusion and consent policies are not for the children; they serve the adults who have never taken the time to educate themselves on healthy sexual dynamics. By allowing fear to dictate our sexual health policies and practices, the provincial government is saying it sees no problems with the current high rates of STIs, intimate partner violence, and violence against 2SLGBTQIA+ youth. It is disturbing and enraging that the discomfort of some parents is more important than ensuring all youth, but especially trans and queer youth, have access to sex education that affirms them and supports them so they can lead safer, healthier, happier lives.


Emilie Wren is a journalism and Indigenous communication arts student at the University of Regina and First Nations University respectively. 

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