LGBTQ support group established at Freeman House

Transgender guidelines released by Department of Education

When people aren’t given spaces to feel safe in, sometimes they don’t express themselves fully, grow and transition into who they are or feel comfortable with their self-identity.

“It means a lot to be around other people like you,” said Alex Cadillac, a local 19 year old. “It can save lives.”

Cadillac and Donette Getson, youth outreach worker with Freeman House in Bridgewater, are trying to provide a supportive space at the facility for the purpose of providing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) youth, and eventually adults, both in and out of school with somewhere to turn and to open up to talk.

“We went to a meeting when Laing House came,” said Ms Getson, who explained this organization works through peer support for youth with mental-health issues. “There was a youth that was there who was transgendering, and she mentioned that there’s no support once she leaves school. … There’s the gay-straight alliances … or the rainbow projects within the high school, but there wasn’t anything when she left.”

Cadillac was that youth. “I’m what’s called nonbinary transgender so instead of going from female to male, or male to female my gender identity is a little more complicated then that,” said Cadillac. “I identify as agender, which mean’s genderless basically, which means I don’t feel any concept of masculinity or femininity or a combination of anything like that so I strive to be gender neutral.” Cadillac prefers the names Alex or Neo and personally uses the pronouns “nem,”for them “ne” for he and “ner,” for her. Born in British Columbia and designated a female at birth, Cadillac lived in Vancouver, Victoria and Calgary before moving to Lunenburg County after turning 10.

“Being in a small town has shown me that there’s a lot of areas that resources from recreation to mental health to physical health or education are missing or certainly could be improved upon. That was one of the things I brought up in the meeting,” said Cadillac, who had wanted to create the space for a while but didn’t have a place or the connections to do so before meeting Ms Getson. “Not only was there a lot of holes for mental health, but one of the biggest resources missing not only for youth but also for adults was LGBTQ resources and education and support networks.”

Ms Getson and Cadillac decided to start their own peer-support group, and other community partners joined in. Representatives of the Sexual Health Centre, the Second Story Women’s Centre and Public Health all attend Monday meetings at 4 p.m. currently offered for those ages 16 to 20.

“We certainly want people to be able to see each other because that’s definitely something you’re missing out here. If you don’t know somebody personally you sometimes feel like you’re existing in this void of strangeness,” said Cadillac. “A very important part of this is that we’re bringing people together in a calm place where they can see each other and know you’re not alone.”

In order to fully engage the public in their project, they also decided to reach out to their target audience.

“We thought the high schools are the best place to start because when they leave school they don’t have anywhere to sort of connect with, is what we were hearing,” said Ms Getson, who has since contacted the South Shore Regional School Board (SSRSB) to have story- and experience-based assemblies at the New Germany, Forest Heights, Park View and Bridgewater high schools to announce the supportive space. “Because the transgender guidelines have recently come out, it all just kind of fell into place.”

“Guidelines for Supporting Transgender and Gender-nonforming Students” was released by the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in December 2014. The document was created in response to an amendment in December 2012 to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act to incorportate the protection of transgender people from discrimination. These guidelines are intended to help school board superintendants, administrators and schools create a safer culture for transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

The guidelines explain terminology for sexual identity, ways of providing support and how to properly use a student’s preferred name or names and pronouns such as “they,” “ze or zhe” or “hir.” It also gives best practices in a variety of other areas from maintaining records consistent with legal practices and ensuring that dress codes support students’ full expression to minimizing gender-segregated activities and maintaining safe classes and spaces, including washrooms.

Lamar Eason, co-ordinator of race relations, cross-cultural understanding and human rights for the SSRSB, applied for a grant of a little under $4,000 earlier this year to help implement these guidelines in South Shore schools. He’s been doing professional development, primarily with high schools, by attending meetings to familiarize staff with what the guidelines say and how to properly deal with possible situations.

He’s also offering a safe space for staff. “Statistically speaking, if you have students that are coming out as gay, lesbian and transgender, statistically there have to be staff that are in the same boat,” said Mr. Eason, “It makes sense to be offering them a safe space as well.”

Mr. Eason is also hoping to implement a self-identification push for all areas of diversity in schools for students and staff this May.

“They get people to talk,” said Ms Getson of the guidelines. “It creates a conversation, and if we don’t talk about it nobody talks about it. It just continues to be hidden.”

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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