12/06/2018 11:07 EST | Updated 12/06/2018 12:26 EST

Ontario's Trans Youth Need Our Support Amid Attacks On Diversity

Rhetoric from the Ontario PC Party and certain social conservative groups is as insidious as it is harmful.

These are scary times for trans people in Ontario. Ford axed inclusive sex-ed and the Progressive Conservative Party passed a resolution at their annual convention to debate gender identity.

In the face of these recent attacks on trans communities, and trans youth in particular, we are resisting. Thousands of students, teachers, parents and community members have organized against the sex-ed repeal earlier this year, and the resolution at the PC convention was met with massive public anger and outcry. We must counter narratives of harm and immorality by exposing their ideological attacks on trans kids for what they are — bigotry coated in pretty words.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, receives the applause of his caucus as he addresses the Ontario PC Convention in Toronto, on Nov. 16 , 2018.

But in the Ford era, I believe it is beholden upon us not only to react to his attacks on trans communities, but also to respond with clear alternatives that would improve the lives of those most impacted by these attacks: trans and gender-diverse kids.

'We are not doing enough'

I have been working as an LGBTQ2S+ educator in Ontario for six years now. I began in high school, giving workshops to my peers on how to end bullying and how to be more inclusive of LGBTQ2S+ youth. In the years since, I have gone on to train hundreds of students, teachers and service providers.

Over the years, I have learned one lesson more than any other: We are not doing enough. We are failing to provide the structures, strategies and tools required to provide systemic improvements for trans kids. We have failed to articulate what a provincial plan to improve trans youth well-being looks like. Our allies — politicians, political parties and advocacy groups — have failed to move beyond a token approach to LGBTQ2S+ inclusion. While the very survival of trans kids is dependent on our ability to create systemic change in communities across this province, we have failed to articulate what that change looks like in action.

It must be countered at every opportunity.

First and foremost, we must combat the narrative that teaching children about trans identities is harmful, or a product of any particular ideology. The attempted politicization of children and youth in schools by social conservatives is no new tactic. We only have to look back two decades to remember the insidious, false and eerily familiar ideological attacks similar groups made, claiming that LGBTQ2S+ activists were seeking to "recruit children into homosexuality."

Right now in Alberta, a coalition of social conservative private schools, with the support of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, is fighting against legislation to ensure LGBTQ2S+ students attending GSAs aren't outed to their parents — parents who might not be supportive of their children's LGBTQ2S+ identities. This coalition argues that GSAs are "ideological sexual clubs" that make graphic information and materials readily available to students, and spread a "harmful gender ideology." And in Ontario, we're seeing similar efforts by social conservative groups that passed a resolution at the recent Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario Convention that says the Tories should recognize gender identity as a "Liberal ideology" and remove it from Ontario's sex-ed curriculum.

Steve Russell via Getty Images
Students stage a sit-in on the lawn at Queen's Park in protest of the provincial government's rollback of the sexual education curriculum to the 1998 version.

The intent of these groups is clear: they want all mention of trans and gender-diverse identities and communities removed from our schools. This rhetoric, that our identities are ideological and dangerous, and that we should not teach children about trans and gender diverse communities, is as insidious as it is harmful. It must be countered at every opportunity.

Organized, intentional and resolute

We must instead embrace an approach that celebrates and affirms trans kids in all their diversity. Trans kids are brilliant. Creative. Powerful. Resilient. They deserve support, compassion and affirmation. We must shout that now louder than ever. We need politicians, political parties and advocacy groups to articulate this message, not just in response to these attacks, but at every opportunity.

Social conservative groups like Parents as First Educators, the Campaign Life Coalition and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are well-funded and organized groups working to marshal opposition against trans communities through legal challenges to GSA legislation, efforts to pass bigoted resolutions at party conventions, and coordinated public "education" campaigns. If we are not just as organized, intentional and resolute, they will succeed in reframing the debate and trans kids will suffer as a result.

Third, we must articulate tangible proposals to do better for and with trans kids. And we must organize to make them happen. We need a trans youth action plan in Ontario. From my work, I have seen incredible initiatives created by and for LGBTQ2S+ communities at a local level that have delivered the support trans kids need. I have seen community-based educators that have worked with schools, local service providers and institutions to create the culture change needed for organizations to provide the trans-affirming care our kids need.

stock-eye via Getty Images

All too often, this has occurred not through the leadership of our governments, but in spite of them. Instead, it has occurred through the commitment of our LGBTQ2S+ communities and our local allies to do better for trans kids. We need to move beyond localized successes and create a provincial strategy to support trans and LGBTQ2S+ youth. We need funding to stabilize local initiatives and organizations, and a commitment to scaling up successful programs to bring them to other communities across Ontario. We need programs to ensure social service and health systems embed trans inclusion as a core practice across all organizations that serve young people. We can't do this piecemeal — we need a plan.

We need to do better for our trans and LGBTQ2S+ youth. We cannot keep talking about supporting trans and LGBTQ2S+ youth without delivering the necessary strategies needed to do so. We need our allies to raise their voices to counter the narratives of social conservative ideologues behind these latest attacks. We need a provincial rallying call that shows those obsessed with targeting trans kids that their attacks will not go without response — that we will rally just as loudly, with just as much commitment, and more.

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We must rally, organize and advocate for the kinds of programs and services that would make a real impact on the health and well-being of trans and LGBTQ2S+ kids in Ontario. We need to present meaningful alternatives, and build the public and political capital to enact those alternatives. Trans kids' lives are at stake.

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