Nfld. & Labrador

Young trans people seek understanding, and child advocate says education is key

Young trans people shared their struggles for a report from the province's child and youth advocate, which recommends five ways the government can improve their lives.

Recommendations informed by focus groups with 18 transgender young people

A number of young trans individuals shared their ideas for how to tackle some of their biggest challenges in a new report from the child and youth advocate. (Canadian Press)

Newfoundland and Labrador's child and youth advocate says young transgender people in the province need the adults and peers they interact with to better understand who they are.

"It's really difficult to work with these young people effectively if you fundamentally don't understand their reality," said Jacqueline Lake Kavanagh.

Her office released a new report on trans youth, based on conversations with two focus groups made up of 18 young people between the ages of 12 and 24, who are transgender — someone who does not identify with the binary notions of female or male.

The bottom line is that these young people really have a right to live with respect and dignity.- Jacqueline Lake Kavanagh

"This is not a representative sample throughout the province, but it is meant to identify some of the issues that these young people are facing and to stimulate a discussion on it," said Lake Kavanagh on Monday.

The issues they identified expose the struggles many young trans people face, especially those who don't have family support or have to leave their homes.

Lake Kavanagh said among the problems highlighted were issues in the school system, their names, basic use of washrooms, lack of access to medical services and a general lack of understanding from peers and adults in their lives.

"I changed my name legally last year .. [But] my deadname was on my … public exams … I go into my exams and my deadname is right there on my desk in front of me. I'm like, 'What's going on?' … That threw me way right off," said one participant quoted in the report.

Jacqueline Lake Kavanagh, the province's child and youth advocate, released a new report Monday on trans youth in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

"Deadname" refers to a trans individual's old name, prior to adopting and legally changing a new name they feel they identify.

They said schools without gender-neutral washrooms cause stress on a daily basis, and one student offered a way to improve that problem: "[Not] having it located in the office where you have to get the key and then out yourself by accessing that bathroom because you have to pass by administration."

"It's a dignity issue" many people take for granted, Lake Kavanagh told CBC Radio's On The Go. 

Learning and understanding needed

Basic education is an overarching failing identified in the report.

Those issues range from not being represented in school curriculum, to their teachers, doctors and other professionals failing to understand gender diversity and publicly asking personal and invasive questions.

There's a road ahead of us.- Jacqueline Lake Kavanagh

"If you don't have the language for something, how can you talk about what it is?" said one participant. 

"People tend to think that being trans is a mental illness, and it's not that," said another. 

In the report, Lake Kavanagh outlined five recommendations the provincial government can follow to quickly start improving the lives on trans youth.

Four of them focus on mandatory professional development for teachers, social workers and health care professionals and changing school curriculum to incorporate gender diversity. The fifth calls for province-wide access to safe and accessible shelter space for gender-diverse young people.

"There's a road ahead of us. There's a lot of learning and a lot of understanding that has to take place," said Lake Kavanagh.

"But I think the bottom line is that these young people really have a right to live with respect and dignity and free from discrimination and prejudice, and I think those are the kinds of things that we're tackling here."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go