Approximately, one million people in Canada are part of the 2SLGBTQAI+ community, which makes up about 4% of Canada’s total population of individuals age 15 and up.
“The International Transgender Day of Visibility recognizes the struggles, sacrifices, and achievements of those who fought, and continue to fight, for gender equity. This day highlights our friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours who contribute to the diversity in Canada, and it encourages us to recognize that transgender and non-binary individuals continue to resist oppression by simply being exactly who they are.”
In 2018, those who identified as 2SLGBTQAI+ in Canada were twice as likely as heterosexual people to experience unwanted sexual behaviours in public, at work, and online. Transgender people were more likely to report poorer mental health than their cisgender counterparts. In addition, they were more likely to contemplate suicide, and more likely to have been diagnosed with a mood or anxiety disorder.
In 2020, police reported 259 hate crimes that targeted sexual orientation.
What’s in a Name?
“All they [trans youth] want to be is a recognized member of the community.”
– Lisa, Social Worker at CHV
Frontline staff at Covenant House see firsthand the struggles that transgender youth are facing, and believe it or not, it starts with their names. Many trans youth do not identify with their birth name. The “simple” act of changing their name quickly shows the barriers that trans youth face.
A large barrier is cost. The costs associated with changing government-issued ID is often beyond the scope of what youth can afford. One of the main reasons that trans youth are on the street is because they have either been rejected by their families, or they are refugees fleeing persecution for simply existing. In either case, trans youth have no support system to help them.
Any form you fill out requires your legal name. If you apply for a job — legal name. Every time that a trans youth has to write their legal name that they don’t associate with, it traumatizes them. So, many youth feel stuck until their names are legally changed, because they don’t want to apply for housing in their current name, or a driver’s license, or apply to post-secondary education. Imagine the trauma of carrying a dissociated name throughout your university career.
If youth can afford to apply to change their name, the process takes three to six months and during that time they have no ID. That means that if they have a health issue, they can’t even go into a walk-in clinic — they are in limbo until their new ID arrives. If trans youth are refugees or immigrants, that adds another layer to the challenges.
Supporting Trans Youth
Changes to our system need to happen, but they must be appropriate changes to be inclusive. An example of change that seemed to solve a challenge, but was, in fact, not an inclusive change happened when a trans youth who loved to participate in PE class, did not have an inclusive change room to use, so they had to wear their gym clothes under their other clothes to participate. When staff heard about this, they cleaned out a janitor’s room for the youth to change in. This left the youth with the feeling of, “So, this is my value.”
The good news is that, although change is slow, there are changes being made. For example, 2021 was the first year that Census of Population included a question on gender, in addition to a question on sex at birth. This will allow Statistics Canada to have data on the transgender and non-binary population to help address information gaps about gender diversity in Canada.
At Covenant House Vancouver, we see the resiliency in trans youth and their desire to part of the community at large. Youth workers and social workers support trans youth with navigating the legal system to get their names changed and achieve the goals that youth set for themselves. Clinical counsellors support youth with their mental health to help youth work through their trauma and become more resilient and confident in who they are. CHV also has a team that works tirelessly with government to create more inclusive policies that will bring about inclusivity. Trans youth at CHV are thriving, because they have a safe space to be their authentic selves.
We are seeing more inclusive groups at community centres, more inclusive job training programs, and programs that help trans youth connect to employers to discover opportunities. In schools, we are starting to see that children are learning about diversity and how to be inclusive.
Support trans youth and help make our communities more inclusive.