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Trans visibility more important than ever, say advocates in wake of provincial policies targeting trans youth

Trans advocates are using this year’s International Transgender Day of Visibility to shed light on their lived experiences — including celebrating trans people’s positive societal contributions.

That’s one of the reasons the day was originally created. 

Locally, trans advocates like Jake Farr say it’s also important to draw attention to the discrimination that many trans, non-binary and two-spirit people face every day.

“I’m consistently trying to break down all the myths: ‘we don’t know who we are’ and ‘we must have mental illness’ and those kinds of things,” Farr, a social worker and counsellor in Pickering, Ont., told CBC Toronto. 

“We’re just human beings,” he said. “It’s really got to stop.”

Farr stands beneath a rainbow made of balloons, part of a promotional display in a shopping mall.
Jake Farr, a social worker and counsellor in Pickering, Ont., says he wishes there had been more transgender representation in society and media when he was young. (Submitted by Jake Farr)

Farr and others — including Dean Lobo at Toronto non-profit, The 519 — say this year’s Transgender Day of Visibility is especially significant given a recent string of government legislation they say is targeting trans youth. 

Last year, in 2023, both New Brunswick and Saskatchewan introduced policies requiring parental consent for students under 16 to change their pronouns and names at school. 

Earlier this year, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith announced her government will introduce legislation in the fall of 2024 with measures to limit gender-affirming care for youth. This would include banning top and bottom surgeries for minors — doctors say bottom surgeries aren’t performed on youth and top surgeries are rare — as well as banning puberty blockers and hormone therapies for minors aged 15 and under and requiring schools to notify parents if their child alters their name or pronouns.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, has previously said his government has no plans to change the province’s rules around gender-affirming care. 

Call for visible allyship

Everyone who supports trans people should be concerned about what’s happening in other parts of the country, Lobo at The 519 told CBC Toronto.

“With everything that’s going on in our world, in our country… it is very, very important for us to actively advocate visibly for the rights and safety of two-spirit, trans and gender diverse folks,” he said. 

Lobo, a bearded man with a shaved head, looks into the camera in front of a colourful background of butterflies and flowers.
Dean Lobo, a coordinator at the 519, says the 2SLGBTQ+ non-profit is using the Transgender Day of Visibility to promote visible allyship. (Submitted by Dean Lobo)

For this year’s day of visibility, The 519 is encouraging allies to show visible support for the community, since many trans, non-binary and two-spirit people don’t feel safe advocating for themselves.

“Ask your employer for gender-inclusive policies, advocate for inclusion at school,” Farr said. 

“If you’re an event organizer, an employer, a landlord or a policymaker, whoever you are, it’s important to recognize and understand your privilege in creating and fostering safety and safer spaces for trans folk.”

He’s also encouraging allies to speak up in their own lives and to write to elected officials to show support for the community.

Celebrating the positives

Michigan-based activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker started the Transgender Day of Visibility in 2009, in part to counter the prevalence of media coverage focused on violence against trans people. 

It’s in that spirit that Ottawa’s Fae Johnstone, executive director of The Society of Queer Momentum, a 2SLGBTQ+ non-profit, says she wants people to celebrate the positives of trans life even if it’s less sensational than stories about acts of violence.

Johnstone, a trans woman with long auburn hair, sits at a desk with Canadian flags in the background.
Fae Johnstone, director of the Society of Queer Momentum, says it’s important to celebrate the everyday lives of trans people, even if it’s less sensational than stories about violence. (Submitted by Fae Johnstone)

“There is just such power in showing the boring side of trans life,” she said. “We are just like every other Canadian, trying to pay our bills, support our families and contribute to our communities.”

Johnstone said it’s also meaningful to highlight the accomplishments of gender diverse people. 

“I want the world to see trans people contributing in arts and culture. We have… incredible poets, writers,” she said. 

“We also have folks who are innovating in science and technology. We have trans folks who are your factory workers, your customer service representatives, your baristas.”

Pflag York Region, one of many GTA organizations observing this year’s day of visibility, says it’s working with Pflag Canada to implement a nationwide lawn sign campaign.

It says the campaign will encourage homeowners to display signs with messages like: “protect and defend trans kids year round” and “trans kids deserve to grow old.”

A spokesperson for Pflag York Region told CBC News that it’s going to start offering free workshops, to help educate people and combat disinformation about the trans community.

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