Alberta plans to consult on proposed gender policies, but advocates say they weren’t invited

Pride groups and some health-care providers are harshly criticizing the Alberta government’s latest attempt to get feedback on its proposed gender identity policies — a private invite that requires participants to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

“If [Premier Danielle Smith] really wants to hear what we have to say, she can schedule a public hearing where those of us who are part of the medical community can be on record to say what we think about this,” said Dr. Jake Donaldson, a Calgary family physician who provides gender-affirming health care.

“I understand there are people who feel strongly about this and people who may not feel safe being vocal about these issues … but at the end of the day, this needs to be a public conversation.”

In an email obtained by CBC News, the provincial government invited 40 organizations and individuals to participate in virtual focus group sessions about its proposed policies. The new rules would affect student gender identity, youth gender-affirming surgeries and health care, and trans women’s participation in sports.

The email is signed by a senior policy adviser for Alberta Health. It notes that if invitees want to participate, they must sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

A provincial spokesperson from the office of Health Minister Adriana LaGrange told CBC News in an email that the invitations went to “key stakeholders,” including clinicians who have experience working with young trans people, other medical professionals, members of the trans community and bioethicists.

Dr. Jake Donaldson, a Calgary family physician who provides gender-affirming health care, says he refused the province’s invitation to consult on the gender policies, in part because he objects to signing a non-disclosure agreement. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Donaldson said his employer forwarded him one of the invites from the province, but he refused to attend, sending back a response that called for more transparency. He said aspects of the invitation were “not only problematic, but downright unethical.”

“I think they just wanted us to be in the room. My sense is that they wanted to be able to say that they engaged with key stakeholders, but they weren’t really actually sincere in doing that,” he said.

“The fact that they were requiring a non-disclosure agreement is an example of why I believe that.”

The provincial spokesperson said the NDA is to ensure confidentiality during discussions. It continues “indefinitely,” meaning those who participate could never discuss what was said.

Although the emailed invitation seemed to focus on health-care providers’ opinions, Donaldson said the voices of the 2SLGBTQ+ community should be front and centre.

“Should women be engaged in conversations that involve women? Should people of colour be engaged in conversations that involve them?” he said. “The fact that such a small portion of this community has been involved in this decision-making progress is just a sign that [the premier] is not engaging in any degree of sincerity in this conversation.”

Pride groups say they aren’t being consulted

Smith has said her government will introduce legislation this fall to support the policies affecting trans and non-binary youth and adults. Since those policies were introduced in January, several human rights, 2SLGBTQ+ and medical groups have come forward saying the changes could potentially harm trans and non-binary people.

Earlier this month, 14 different Pride groups from across Alberta banned United Conservative Party caucus members, including Smith, from any upcoming Pride events.

“You may not celebrate with us in June when you plan to attack us in September,” a letter published on May 17 states.

Members of these and other Pride groups told CBC News they didn’t receive the latest consultation invitations from the province but believe they should have been invited.

A smiling person stands in front of a very packed bookshelf. They are wearing a hat, glasses and have a thick, dark beard.
Esjay Lafayette, executive director of the Pride Centre of Edmonton, says he and others from the organization haven’t been consulted to this day about Alberta’s proposed gender policies. (Sam Samson/CBC)

“As currently the only organization that has regular weekly programming with youth, 80 per cent of which identify as transgender … we definitely should be included in that,” said Esjay Lafayette, executive director of the Pride Centre of Edmonton.

Lafayette said he hopes the provincial government scraps the policies completely.

“The ones who will be most impacted are those that are not from affirming, safe spaces, and that is a lifelong sentence of pain and suffering,” he said.

“It breaks my heart that they would pursue these policies with such fervour knowing the damaging impact. That both saddens and really scares me.”

A person stands on a busy Edmonton street corner. They have a nose piercing and they're wearing button up shirt over a T-shirt. In the background, members of the queer community dance on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton.
Rowan Morris, founder of Trans Rights YEG, says he wasn’t invited to the government’s consultations. ‘To only be relying on the people providing that medical care says that you’re valuing the medical side of being trans over the humanity of our community,’ he says. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Rowan Morris, founder of Trans Rights YEG, said he wasn’t invited to the consultation either, but he hopes more members of the trans community, not just medical professionals, are involved in any future conversations.

“Trans existence goes beyond what medicine you’re taking,” he said.

“To only be relying on the people providing that medical care says that you’re valuing the medical side of being trans over the humanity of our community.”

NDAs a deal-breaker for advocates

Others say even if they were invited, an NDA requirement is a deal-breaker.

“There’s no room for an NDA when human rights are at risk,” said Amy Mendenhall, executive director of HOME, a new “two-spirit, Indigenous, queer-led organization” advocating for youth in central Alberta.

“If I found out what’s happening, I have kids that I need to tell their parents so they can get them out of the province,” they said.

But some say there is a time and place for NDAs.

“There’s privilege reasons, there’s privacy reasons. There’s any number of reasons there could be NDAs involved,” said Tom Vernon, a communications consultant with Crestview Strategy and a former political reporter in Edmonton.

“On a budget bill, they might be looking at a very specific measure and how it might impact something. But we don’t want to talk about this publicly because this could impact markets,” Vernon said.

“On an issue like this, it feels more like they’re trying to protect people who might have differing views from being debated about in public.”

WATCH | Alberta premier defends government’s proposed gender policies:

Premier Smith defends proposed new gender policies during Ottawa visit

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, visiting Ottawa to open a new provincial office, says her planned policy changes on gender identity are part of ‘a debate that we have to have.’

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