Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia adds 'two-spirit' option on civil servant forms

It ends by asking workers to voluntarily identify if their gender and sexual orientation, among options, are two-spirit.

Mi'kmaq man welcomes use of First Nations term

The province defines it as a term preferred by some aboriginal people instead of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Two-spirit implies the embodiment of both masculine and feminine spiritual qualities within the same body, it said. 2:17

Results are being compiled from surveys that went out to 10,400 Nova Scotia civil servants about workplace satisfaction.

It ends by asking workers to identify — if they wanted to — if their gender and sexual orientation is "two-spirit," among other options. 

The province defines it as a term preferred by some aboriginal people instead of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Two-spirit implies the embodiment of both masculine and feminine spiritual qualities within the same body, it said.

"We wanted to ensure all civil servants can see themselves in the survey, and understand that they're valued members of our diverse workforce," said Laura Barbour, the manager for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Finding the right identity

It's sometimes confused with bi-sexuality, according to John R. Sylliboy, a co-founder of the Wabanaki Two Spirit Alliance and an educator in Halifax. 

He's originally from the Eskasoni First Nation and moved to the Millbrook First Nation. He identifies as two-spirit.

"When I looked outside, I couldn't find my right identity. When I came back into the community, that's when it made sense that I am two-spirit, not necessarily just a gay man living in a First Nation community or in an urban setting, even. So it started making sense when you start linking the cultural aspects," said Sylliboy.

He welcomes the information from the Nova Scotia government survey.

"Pleased and a little bit surprised, I guess. I think mainstream is starting to catch up a little bit with what individual organizations or individual priorities are for a lot of two-spirit or LGBT has been trying to fight for."

Xio Gould, an Eskasoni First Nation high school student, found it a helpful way of understanding identity. 

"When I was 12, I used to present really feminine, but that didn't really feel right, so I presented as masculine, but that didn't quite seem right, either," Gould said.

The confusion turned to depression, until Gould found the aboriginal alternative. "Ever since I found a word, two-spirit, and knew what it meant, it felt like a relief, like a weight off my shoulder."

A first for Nova Scotia

Barbour says Nova Scotia is the first province to ask civil servants about two-spirit.

"The more data we can gain in that area can help us further address the needs and challenges of diverse employees," said Barbour. "The better we can understand the diversity of our workforce, the better we can serve the needs of diverse employees."

Vicki Roberts, a spokeswoman for the Public Service Commission, says expanding self-identification was one of the actions identified in the diversity and inclusion strategy launched in the fall of 2014.

She says the data will help the commission evaluate programs in place for staff and determine if there's a need to develop or improve supports to create welcoming workplaces for employees.

The results of the employee engagement survey are expected sometime in the summer.

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