Transgender youth in Alberta need more than 1 part-time clinic, says new campaign

A new video campaign is calling on the Alberta government to provide more funding to help transgender youth, many of whom are waiting years to get in to a specialized clinic.

Skipping Stone Foundation says long wait list is causing desperation

Amelia Newbert, with the Skipping Stone Foundation, says her organization is hearing a lot of desperation from transgender youth. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

A new video campaign is calling on the Alberta government to provide more funding to help transgender youth. 

The only specialized, multi-disciplinary clinic in the province catering to transgender youth is at the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary and is only open one half-day each month as part of a pilot project. 

The waiting list for the clinic is up to three years. 

"We're hearing a lot of kids stuck in that long wait, and what we're hearing a lot of is desperation," said Amelia Newbert, who runs the Skipping Stone Foundation, the organization behind the video campaign.

The Metta Clinic at the children's hospital provides everything from mental health and psychiatric support, to hormone therapy and preparation for some surgeries for youth aged seven to 20.

The damage of puberty

Newbert, who is trans, says timing is key with kids. 

"The reality of being forced to be exposed to a puberty that doesn't conform to your gender identity is profoundly damaging," she said. 

That damage can lead to an increase in problems such as self-harm, addiction and suicide, according to Newbert.

In the first video of the Skipping Stone campaign, Ace Peace, a 16-year-old transgender boy, describes the desperation he felt watching his body change while he waited nine months to get into the clinic. 

"When I came out as transgender everyone supported me. I was supported by family, friends and school. But it was still hell for me," he says.  

 "I was watching my body change in ways I didn't want to see it change. I felt like it was betraying me." 

Speaking with the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday morning, Peace said he was struggling at school and the clinic provided much needed emotional support.

"They knew what to do, they knew what was going on, they knew the emotional impact that it had on me so they tried to get me on hormones as fast as they could," he said. 

Early intervention key 

Pam Krause, who runs the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, agrees it's important to offer support early. 

"If you have to wait three years for something, for something that you know is your truth, I think that causes all kinds of difficulties for people. And the system is paying later on when people are having mental health problems," she said. 

Alberta Health Services told CBC News that it continues to examine the pilot project, launched in 2014. 

"AHS is currently gathering evidence and exploring best practices to determine the best approach to providing services to youth struggling with gender dysphoria," said an email from Julie Kerr, the health authority's senior operating officer for addictions and mental health in the Calgary zone. 

"Any decisions on whether to expand the clinic will be evidence-based."

'Invaluable' service

Alberta's health minister, Sarah Hoffman, said she understands the long delays are frustrating.

"While there are a number of health services that can support transgender youth in different parts of the province, having a designated service like the Metta Clinic has proven invaluable for many patients and families," she said by email. 

Kerr said youth struggling with gender identity can find other programs and services in Alberta, including community mental health programs, crisis mental health, family physicians, edrocrinology and psychiatry services. 

With files from Jennifer Lee and the Calgary Eyeopener