When I came out as a trans man in my early 50's, I had a degree of privilege that comes with race, age, financial security, an affirming workplace, an affirming family, access to affirming faith communities, and access to gender affirming care by medical and mental health practitioners. Most other trans and gender diverse people are not so lucky.
Despite legislative changes in recent years to support trans people’s health, safety, and rights – including the federal conversion therapy ban which came into force in 2022 – many trans people in Canada continue to face systemic discrimination and barriers to their health and well-being. This includes exposure to trans conversion practices, which refer to a range of harmful attempts to deny, suppress, or change a trans person’s gender identity and/or expression, including being denied access to gender-affirming care such as hormones, surgeries, or mental health support.
As a result, many trans folks have fears about seeing a doctor or going to a hospital, of being misgendered, or not having their identities or needs taken seriously. In many places in this country, we still have no access to safe and respectful healthcare.
Queer, trans, and Two-Spirit people who have experienced conversion practices—whether in a religious or healthcare context, or both—have experienced cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that attacks our self-identity and can cause deep and lasting harm to our mental health. Conversion practices invalidate and pathologize us, affecting our sense of self at our very core.
Research shows that exposure to conversion practices include a range of long-term impacts including complex traumas, minority stress, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, homelessness, suicidality, sexual and relationship problems, low self-esteem, social isolation, and more. As so many 2S/LGBTQIA+ people can relate to, trans folks experience many barriers to mental health care that can drive us away from accessing the care we need. Conversion practices intersect with other forms of oppression (i.e., racism, sexism, ableism) in ways that profoundly impact our mental health.
No one should be subjected to harmful, illegal conversion practices, least of all children and youth. No young person should be afraid that their school will refuse to support them or out them to their parents if they reveal themselves to be queer or trans, or if they ask their teachers to use their chosen pronouns and names. That kind of behaviour puts trans and gender diverse young people in a life-or-death situation.
At this time, more than ever, it is critical that members of the 2S/LGBTQIA+ community, 2S/LGBTQIA+ community organizations, and affirming service providers (including affirming faith communities and networks), come together to demand that all levels of government act now to protect the rights of queer, trans, and gender diverse children and youth. The Canadian Medical Association has just spoken out in support of this:
“Gender identity is a health issue, and every step should be taken to ensure that all children and youth can achieve optimal health. Exploring and determining one’s sexual orientation and gender is part of normal childhood and adolescent development. This should be encouraged by creating safe environments in which children and youth can express themselves, absent of barriers, prejudice and restrictive conditions that can lead to harm and stigma.”
Let’s unite all our voices into a call to support the healthy expression of sexual orientation and gender as a fundamental right of all children and youth.
By: Jordan Sullivan
Jordan Sullivan is the SOGIECE/CP Prevention and Survivor Support Coordinator at CBRC. He can be reached at [email protected].