Toronto

Transgender activists concerned about film featuring former CAMH psychologist Ken Zucker

A British documentary is raising concerns among transgender activists in this city, partly because it features a Toronto psychologist widely accused of trying to prevent transgender children from getting sex reassignment treatment.

Thousands sign petition for expert review of documentary featuring former director of Gender Identity Centre

Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist who used to head the Family Gender Identity Clinic at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, is featured in a BBC2 documentary airing Thursday that has raised concerns among transgender activists. (Jim Ross/New York Times)

A documentary scheduled to air on British television Thursday is raising concerns among transgender activists in this city, partly because it features a Toronto psychologist widely accused of trying to prevent transgender children from getting sex reassignment treatment.

As of this writing, almost 11,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that the BBC2 documentary Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best? be independently reviewed by an expert before it airs.

"Ultimately, this TV show could spark a trail of prejudice; belittling transgender children, leading them to not being socially accepted by society," wrote Lucas Johnston, on his change.org petition.

Johnston's concerns stem from the documentary's interview with Dr. Kenneth Zucker, the former director of the Child Youth and Family Gender Identity Clinic at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. In December 2015, CAMH announced it was "winding down" the clinic and Zucker was no longer employed there.

Jennifer Lynn, 62, signed the petition and donated money to the cause.

"I'm concerned this is going to expose others to this kind of treatment. I'm telling you: I don't want to see these kids go through the hell that I had to go through."

62 year old Jennifer Lynn, (centre) with her ex-wife and son, said her first two stints at the Gender Identity Clinic left her damaged. (Jennifer Lynn)

The transgender activist was a former outpatient at the adult clinic. In 1983, she sought help to transition to a woman but that effort ended badly with her attempted suicide, she said.

She tried again to make the transition more than a decade later, which ended with her making several more attempts to kill herself.

"The purpose in those two attempts was not to help you transition. Those who could get through the process usually ended up being more effeminate men because they could pass as women already, but I didn't pass well," said Lynn. "That forced me back into the male role and that's the worst thing that could happen to me because my life has been in shambles."

Gender Identity Clinic

Some transgender activists have suggested the Gender Identity Clinic for youth Zucker ran was practising "conversion" or "reparative therapy," which counsels queer youth to accept their biological sex, an accusation clinic staff denied. 

Hundreds of sexuality and gender experts from around the world signed an open letter to CAMH supporting Zucker after he lost his job.

The psychologist declined to comment.

"I want to see [the documentary] before I say anything," Zucker said when CBC Toronto reached him on the phone. 

I don't want to see these kids go through the hell that I had to go through.- Jennifer Lynn, trans activist

The film is said to present evidence the majority of kids with gender dysphoria — the condition of feeling one's emotional and psychological identity as that of the opposite biological sex —would overcome it without gender reassignment.

"That could potentially mislead people or misguide people in the truth because it's showing our lives as something that's a mental illness," said Danielle Araya, a trans advocate and co-ordinator at The 519, a centre that provides services for the LGBTQ community.

Araya was a patient at the clinic when she was looking to transition at the age of 15. 

"Hopefully it gets to the truth of it and shows many perspectives and hopefully there'll be more stories that don't just depict us as fad human beings with mental illnesses."