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Parental Rights, Trans Kids, And How To Respond
On The Left's Response
There’s two ways you can pick a fight as an opposition party in a Majority Parliament. You can try and work with the government of the day despite the fact that they don’t need your votes, and try to mitigate the consequences of what you believe to be bad policy, or you can pick a fight in public and hope that public pressure causes the government to cave. The latter can work – see the way Ford caved on the teacher’s strike in fall 2022 after a few bad headlines – and even if it doesn’t stop the policy, it can damage the incumbents in a way that helps your side of politics more broadly (see the Ford Greenbelt stuff).
The anti-terror legislation in 2014 and 2015, after the terror attack downtown in October of 2014, was an example of the differences in approach. The Liberals tried to work with the Tories, and while they took heat from the left for it, their vote for it – and Trudeau’s subsequent defense of it in the Munk Debate in the 2015 campaign – showed them as serious people there to do a serious job. On the other hand, the NDP tried to rally the country to their side on the basis of it, but in the backdrop of that attack, they didn’t have the public on their side.
The emerging fight on schools, parental rights, and how to treat trans kids is another situation where if the right wants to do something they can. We have 8 provinces governed by Conservatives or a party led by someone who said to vote for the CPC over the Liberals in 2021, and if they want to do this, they can, and more importantly, they have the public on their side. So the question of how to respond to this is crucial.
The response I want to have is fuck parental rights, because if your trans kid has told his friends and his teachers and hasn’t told you, then you’re clearly the fucking problem, but that is a response that has sub-20% of the country on my side, so we have to be honest here. Done badly, this has the potential to do a lot of damage to a lot of kids. But if the left does this properly – if they work with these governments to ensure there are robust protections for kids who have legitimate fears about the response they’ll get – then they’ll do more to protect the kids they claim to care about than any press release ever will.
There’s no guarantee these governments will actually play ball, but if the left doesn’t try, they’ll have failed too.
“Educators are well versed on exactly what to do and who to turn to if they believe that child may be harmed for whatever reason, or whatever circumstance. But as I say, as an overarching value system, I really do believe that parents need to be fully aware, fully engaged. And school boards need to be transparent with parents. I mean, they are the legal guardians. They love their kids. They want to be aware of what's happening in the life of their children in their schools.”
It’s worth focusing on the totality of this quote, and that Lecce said that schools already take into account the health and safety of a child “where there are exceptional circumstances” or “situations of potential harm to the child.” (Those quotes again Lecce’s.) This isn’t a man who is sounding like a crazed transphobe, eager to out every trans kid in an Ontario school. Hell, he didn’t even commit to legislating any of this.
Do I trust that if they attempt to legislate any of this that the protections will be robust enough, that the process for informing parents will protect the kids enough, and that there’s going to be enough latitude for the schools to adhere to the general “value system”, to use Lecce’s words? No way in fucking hell does Lecce get that benefit of the doubt from me, but that’s where the left’s opportunity, or obligation, kicks in.
I am not the person to say what the right protections are here – I don’t know how to define the threshold for a credible situation of potential harm, I don’t know what the procedure should be to assess that and what to do moving forward, but there has to be a process. What steps happen between a trans kid telling their teacher they’re trans and they can’t tell their parents but they want to be referred to differently at school is not an expertise of mine. But I’m sure there are plenty of experts who would be willing, if not eager, to help get a solution that’s workable here.
Is this my preferred strategy? No, but 78% of the country thinks parents should be told and a majority of that group think parents should have to consent to any change in circumstance. This is not an issue where principle will help the community and the kids who need protection. In 8/10 of the provinces, the left is the opposition. Damage mitigation is not just an acceptable practice in those circumstances but a moral necessity when the alternative is disaster, which is what could be in front of us.
If I were advising the Ontario left – either a leadership candidate for the OLP or the ONDP – I’d suggest a commission, an expert panel to study the best practices from abroad to meet the goal of protecting kids who need protection without trampling over parental rights. Hell, even if the government says no, commission it yourselves and present it as a starting point for the eventual fight. Building a process and procedure for informing parents whose kids don’t fear active violence or rejection but are still scared to tell their parents would be a useful thing for schools to know how to do to help kids in a difficult spot.
Nobody on the broad left is saying to hang trans kids out to dry, but the question of how best to protect them isn’t clear given we don’t have power in the provinces and we don’t have the public on our side. If someone has a better solution than what I’ve pitched, great, I would love to hear it, especially from people smarter than me on what the best mechanisms and protections to fight for should be.
But sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring the very basic fact that we do not have the public with us on this will end with lasting damage to our movement while accomplishing nothing. The left’s goal is to replace these bad right wing governments, and putting ourselves firmly on the wrong side of public opinion isn’t going to get us a government that will respect workers, build more hospital capacity, and not sell off the Greenbelt to people who went to his daughter’s stag and doe.
There’s this belief that those willing to compromise care less about the vulnerable and the marginalized, but in this case to not compromise, to stand on some esoteric principle at the cost of trying to find a workable solution, will end in the very tragedies that those who invoke trans kids for political point scoring claim to care about. If the left in Ontario and across Canada care about these kids who deserve everything, we must not fail them. We need to advocate solutions that protect these kids and have an actual chance of ever becoming law. Otherwise, we might as well just give up entirely.