In the past few years, trans Canadians have celebrated major milestones — including new protections in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 2017, and the introduction of gender-neutral passports in 2018.
But the slow march towards full equality needs to move much quicker, advocates told Members of Parliament at the ongoing federal hearings on LGBTQ2 health in Canada.
Especially as more and younger Canadians come out as gender diverse.
“The future will most certainly include more expansive ranges of gender diversity,” said Jack Woodman at the May 7 hearing.
Woodman is President of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health, where they, and others in the field, are noticing more millennials coming out — perhaps due to greater public awareness of trans issues and greater connection to information on the Internet.
For instance, the number of trans and non-binary young people being serviced by Ontario’s health care system has quadrupled between 2016 and 2018, said Woodman.
This puts more pressure on a health system that already leaves many trans people behind.
“There's so much data to show that trans people in Canada experience barriers to basic services,” said Lorraine Grieves, Provincial Program Director at Trans Care British Columbia.
Providing name and gender marker changes without special requirements, inviting self-identification of gender and pronouns, and ensuring gender-affirming care are all ways doctors and health care providers can better serve trans and gender diverse Canadians, says Grieves. Right now, many patients feel like they have to educate their doctors on these issues — when treatment should be inclusive, comprehensive, and consistent.
These issues are on top of the difficulties accessing transition-related surgeries — with long wait times, high travel costs and lack of medical coverage.
“Imagine any other surgery deemed medically necessary that improves and saves lives being offered at one small private clinic in one province with vast variability in coverage depending on where you live,” added Woodman.
But surgery is only one aspect of trans well-being, and sometimes not needed at all, say witnesses. What’s most important is the feeling of being seen and respected in their gender, said Quinn Bennett, Provincial Lead at Trans Care British Columbia — especially young people.
“When unsupported, trans young people face higher rates of mental health concerns, such as suicidality, anxiety and depression… but when connected to timely and effective supports, many of these concerns are seen to be alleviated,” Bennett told the hearing.
The ask of the government, then, is to better educate young people on gender and sexual diversity in schools, fund more trans-specific programming and create more pathways for trans people to access care all across the country.
Not just blanket care, though. Sarah Chown, Executive Director of YouthCO, explained that it’s important to bring diverse perspectives in the treatment of gender diversity, such as Indigenous ones.
“Many indigenous people are queer and trans, and this has been true before these words even existed in English,” said Chown. She added that colonization has deprived generations of people from the chance to learn in and from their own families and communities about the role of Two-Spirit people.
“As a result, today's Indigenous youth may not know that in many communities, Two-Spirit people were an important part of Indigenous life, and they may not have Two-Spirit role models. This limits access to Two-Spirit teachings and community, and can be an isolating experience having direct impacts on mental health.”
To hear the testimony of all presenters at this meeting (No. 142 HESA - Standing Committee on Health), review the evidence or read the minutes, visit the links below to the HESA webpage:
Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health
• Jack Woodman, President
KW Counselling Services
• Washington Silk, Program Coordinator and Registered Social Worker, Psychotherapist, OK2BME
• Scott Williams, Communications and Development Coordinator
Provincial Health Services Authority
• Lorraine Grieves, Provincial Program Director, Trans Care BC
• Quinn Bennett, Provincial Lead, Peer and Community Support Networks, Trans Care BC
YouthCO HIV and Hep C Society
• Sarah Chown, Executive Director