Transphobia is alive and well within the UCP

Keeping one person out of the UCP caucus doesn't address that.

The United Conservative Party (UCP) isn’t exactly known for being socially progressive, but largely people believe it’s at least tolerant. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith seemingly took a stand against transphobia last year when a then-UCP candidate, Jennifer Johnson, compared transgender youth to feces. Smith decided that Johnson wouldn’t sit with the UCP caucus if elected, and has stood by that decision. But transphobia within the UCP is still going unaddressed. And 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations across the province are calling the UCP out on it.

In February, Smith announced in a video that the UCP could be introducing legislation that many have called anti-trans. All of the policies would regulate trans youth’s ability to socially and medically transition when and how they want. Smith received immediate backlash over these policies, and the outrage over the policies has rightly continued.

As of May 17, 14 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations have banned Smith and the UCP from Pride events. The organizations say that the UCP can’t celebrate with them and then introduce legislation that will harm trans youth. But transphobia in the UCP didn’t begin with those policies, nor does it end with it. Smith and the UCP may claim to care about trans youth, but their actions say otherwise.

Explicitly transphobic comments like Johnson’s aren’t the only actions that harm trans Albertans. Platforming other people who have made similar remarks is just as bad, as is proposing policies that will actively deny trans youth the ability to freely express their identity. Smith has done both of these things in the past few months. As the leader of the UCP and the province, her actions set a dangerous precedent. Simply saying you support trans youth means nothing when your actions contradict that.

Smith attended Tucker Carlson’s event in Calgary on January 24 and took a picture alongside Carlson, Jordan Peterson, and Conrad Black. Carlson’s far-right views, including transphobia, were seemingly too much for even Fox News, where he hosted the political talk show Tucker Carlson Tonight for years. Peterson has also expressed transphobic views. Black has expressed support for J.K. Rowling’s spread of transphobic misinformation about trans women. And still, it appeared that Smith couldn’t have been happier to meet them.

Not long after that, Smith announced new policies that would regulate trans youth’s freedom to transition, socially or medically. These policies target trans youth specifically and would prohibit them from doing things that cisgender youth do too. People commonly go by different names than their given name, such as using their middle name or a nickname. But the policies would require parental consent for trans youth under the age of 15 to go by a different name at school.

The policies would also restrict the use of puberty blockers for trans youth. Cis youth use puberty blockers or other forms of hormone treatment for various reasons, such as to pause early puberty. Smith singled out the use of puberty blockers or hormone therapy for gender reassignment treatment in the video announcing the new policies. If puberty blockers are safe for cis youth, what warrants the government to restrict access for trans youth?

Following the backlash over the policies, largely from 2SLGBTQIA+ groups, Smith doubled down on X and reposted an article from the National Post that framed trans youth as “children who are simply confused by their gay and lesbian attraction, their autism or their social alienation.” These articles only reinforce transphobic rhetoric, much like that of Johnson’s remarks, and Smith platformed them. The UCP’s X page reposted the same article. 

And while all of these things are hurtful to trans people, it has tangible effects. Rainbow stairs at the United Church in Ponoka were vandalized not long after Johnson was elected as the MLA for that constituency. It’s obviously impossible to say if the vandalism was directly inspired by Johnson’s statements. Rather, it is fair to say her statements didn’t discourage homophobic or transphobic actions in Ponoka. Soon after, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said that hate crimes are on the rise in Alberta. 

The policies Smith’s government will table and likely pass in the fall session of the legislature will hurt trans youth. These policies interfere with the decisions a trans youth, their parents, and their qualified, licensed doctors can make in regards to their health care. It would force teachers to potentially out a student to their parents for using an alternative name and pronouns, potentially endangering that student if their parents are unsupportive.

Arguably, keeping Johnson out of the UCP caucus and occasionally attending Pride events was just performative. Meaningful steps towards combatting transphobia within the UCP aren’t likely to happen anytime soon. Instead, the government is fostering transphobia by proposing policies that endanger trans youth. If the UCP truly wants to support 2SLGBTQIA+ Albertans, and have their support in return, they need to do more to address the transphobia that lives within their party.

Leah Hennig

Leah is the 2024-25 Opinion Editor at The Gateway. She is in her first year studying English and media studies. In her spare time, she can be found reading, painting, and missing her dog while drinking too much coffee.

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