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 said earlier this week that his 13-year-old brother is transgender and that Wednesday's walkout was meant to show him and others they're supported.
"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."
Smith said the fall sitting of the legislature would bring new rules, including restrictions on youth changing their names or pronouns at school, as well as on hormone treatment and surgery for gender affirmation.
She 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 spurred a week of protest — both at the grassroots level and from groups like the Alberta Medical Association.
Students at high schools in Edmonton and Calgary also walked out Wednesday.
In Calgary, several dozen students from Western Canada High School carried signs with messages such as "Our Outrage Does Not Fit on a Poster" and "Protect Trans Black Female Disabled Immigrant Queer Indigenous Refugee Youth."
Yomade Akapo, 16, said Smith's government is "taking away rights from people who haven't done anything wrong.
"It's just a violation of human rights. It's absolutely disgusting that that's something she could to do to thousands of trans kids. I don't think she understands how she's affecting these kids, how she's affecting their mental health."
Fletcher Morrison, a transgender boy in Grade 11, said it's important that his and others' rights are respected at their schools.
"I just want everyone to feel safe in school," said the 16-year-old who transitioned three years ago with the support of his friends and family.
Morrison said he's been seeing a lot more anti-transgender arguments in the past week.
"I can see it getting worse," he said. "I just am worried for the safety of youth."
A few people stopped on the street in front of the high school to support the students.
Kathryn Smith, a non-binary trans and queer adult, works with a lot of transgender youth.
"I wanted to come out and show the kids there are adults who support and love them," Smith said.
"It's very hard to see what's happening."
Back in Leduc, Cervo said he used to be transgender but now considers himself gender-fluid. He said he mostly goes by "he," 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 said 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 felt 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 said gender affirmation surgery would be banned for those 17 and under. And there would be no puberty blockers or hormone therapies for the purpose of gender 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."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2024.
Rob Drinkwater and Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press