International Transgender Day of Visibility

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.”

At Covenant House Vancouver, we see the resiliency in trans youth and their desire to be 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.

Meet Theo

Theo is an autistic trans youth who is currently residing in Chilliwack. Their story illustrates some of the challenges that trans youth can face and how, as a society, we must work harder to support trans people in our community.

We have to raise awareness in the community, as housing autistic individuals who are trans is very difficult, because they are often judged by their looks and often lose out on opportunities, for this reason. They all need to feel supported, as they add value to our communities.”

– Lisa, Social Worker at Covenant House Vancouver

As a child, Theo lived with their parents and siblings. The family was often unhoused, sometimes living in cars, sometimes in tents. If the family found a place to live, they were soon evicted, because they could not pay the rent. The family struggled with food security and safety.

Theo struggled in school. Whenever a school would want to test Theo for autism, the parents would change schools, because they felt blamed for their child being this way.

Theo was around 12 years old, when a school discovered that they were unhoused. It was at that time that Theo was placed in foster care.

In grade nine, Theo was bullied at school, simply for being Theo, so their foster parents transferred Theo to a different high school.

While searching for a classroom, Theo accidentally walked into a room where a group of trans youth were meeting. Theo told Lisa that they always felt that they were trans, but lacked the understanding of what that meant, until meeting this group. Theo felt that this was their destiny.

Theo’s siblings were supportive of Theo being trans, but Theo’s biological parents were not.

While in their foster home, Theo adopted some pets. Although Theo had aged out of the foster care system, Theo’s foster parents told Theo that they could stay as long as they needed.  At some point, Theo and their foster parents had a disagreement, and that’s when Theo entered the Crisis Program at Covenant House.

While in the Crisis Program, Theo worked with CHV’s clinical counsellors on their mental health. Theo wished to see their pets and was able to make amends with their foster parents. Theo was once again welcomed back to the home whenever they needed.

Theo was used to being transient and alternated from staying in Crisis Program to living at their foster home to living with their brother in Chilliwack.

Eventually, Theo came back to CHV and entered the Rights of Passage program. Here, Theo was connected to Lisa. Through CHV, Theo was able to get diagnosed and that’s when they found out that they were autistic. Theo felt relived by this diagnosis and said, “Now everything makes sense to me as to why I struggled.” 

Theo felt overstimulated in the Rights of Passage program, so they moved back to their foster home. Unable to find affordable housing in Vancouver (let alone one that accepted pets), Theo moved in with their brother in Chilliwack.

Theo is not happy living in Chilliwack as Chilliwack does not have many services that are queer friendly, and some are faith based, which makes Theo uncomfortable.

To access supports that they need, Theo commutes to Vancouver. Theo is still very much connected to CHV and accesses our Community Support Services regularly. Theo is also working with Lisa, to find affordable housing, and one of CHV’s clinical counsellors, on their mental health. In addition, Theo is also connected to Qmunity, Foundry, the Vancouver Canucks Foundation, and SAJE (Strengthening Abilities and Journeys of Empowerment).

Unfortunately, as Lisa mentions, “There is a long waitlist to get into some services. Most services are for children or are services that you have to pay for.”

Theo has often stated that if they had not found Covenant House and been diagnosed, they would still be wondering what was going on with them. We know that many young people don’t always have the opportunity to get properly diagnosed as a child, and if the parents are not supportive, many trans youth often don’t have access to, or receive, supports in the community.  

How can we, as a community, better support trans people?

Lisa says that for starters, we need affordable housing. We also need specialized housing that takes into account the variety of needs of autistic youth (for example, less stimulation, special lighting that won’t trigger youth) and pet friendly housing. We need housing that accepts and supports the spectrum of youth and adults who are in the community.

There needs to be more accessible services for those who have been diagnosed with autism and we need to educate parents and communities about trans youth.

Awareness and education are key. A community can’t thrive until everyone in the community is thriving. Help raise awareness and support trans people in your community.