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Not all York Region homes are safe places for 2SLGBTQ+ youth
Sept. 15, 2023

"You're not welcome at our Pride parade."

That's the word from a group advocating for the 2SLGBTQ+ community to the Ford Government after the latest lob in an ongoing battle over students' use of pronouns.

At his Ford Fest event Sept. 8, Premier Doug Ford said parents should be informed about their children's gender identity decisions.

"It's not up to the teachers, it’s not up to the school boards to indoctrinate our kids," he said.

That incensed Pflag York Region, an advocacy group supporting 2SLGBTQ+ communities, already upset over Education Minister Stephen Lecce's recent comment that he believes "parents must be fully involved" if their child chooses to use different pronouns at school.

Now, the local Pflag group says Ford has lost his right to march in the parade.

"We unequivocally condemn the words of the premier in the strongest of terms," Tristan Coolman, president of Pflag York Region, said.

"It is a privilege to be included in the coming out journey of a queer person; it is also a privilege to participate in a Pride march. Everyone is welcome to watch and observe, but it is our position the march is done in solidarity with folks who are doing the work to support and uphold the rights of the queer community. It is clear Premier Ford and his government, at best, lack an understanding of the harm their words can do to queer youth who live in unsafe households."

It's that lack of safety that has Pflag, and others, most concerned about what they perceive as "inflammatory words" echoing misinformation and discrimination campaigns seen in the United States and elsewhere.

Stephen Scott, of Aurora, shares that concern.

When Scott’s teenage child came out about her gender, they hugged her, told her they supported her, and Scott joined Pflag to act as an advocate.

Scott says they have found many of their daughter’s friends don’t have such a welcoming home.

"There are a lot of transgender youth who have negative outcomes at home, being kicked out, denied the care they need," he said.

Sarah is another York Region student who has encountered such transphobia, oppression and discrimination.

Sometimes, the nine-year-old cries because her grandparents won’t speak with her.

Maybe they’d love her more, she thinks, if she pretended to be a "he", like she did when she was younger. Maybe her relatives might come back into her life again if she acted how they think she should -- more like a boy, instead of the girl she knows she is.

It’s heavy stuff for a child entering Grade 4, but Sarah’s mom, Jennifer, knows it could be much, much worse.

Sarah (whose name has been changed to protect her identity), could be on her own dealing with identity challenges, with no one supporting her, instead of having a mom and dad who do.

That’s why Jennifer believes Lecce was wrong to suggest at a Thornhill news conference schools should inform parents when students go by different pronouns or names at school, and it’s why she’s speaking out now for those who aren’t as lucky as Sarah.

Jennifer says her child came out at age five, but knew she was a "she", not "he", years before.

"She was assigned male at birth," she said. "She has always been feminine. By the time she was four, she was adamant she was going to grow up and be a mom."

Sarah grew her hair out that year, but it wasn’t until she was five she had the language to articulate who she was.

Jennifer, a social worker and child and youth worker, was comfortable following her daughter’s lead. Sarah’s father took a while longer, but he’s on board now, too, and fully supportive, Jennifer says. Their extended relatives still don’t understand.

"I haven’t had a relationship with my own family for three years -- my father, his wife, siblings, their spouses and all my nieces and nephews. Their response was, 'You’re a child abuser. You’re grooming her. You should have her analyzed by a team of psychiatrists. There must be something horribly wrong with her.'

"My daughter says, 'I don’t understand why grandma and grandpa don’t love me'."

Can you imagine, Jennifer says, if these people were Sarah’s parents?

"Those are the kids who need safe space in school to be able to express who they are."

In a statement Aug. 29, the Ontario Principals' Council said parents and guardians are ideally involved, but warn students who do not have such support face higher risks of self-harm, emotional distress, isolation, deteriorating mental health and bullying.

‘The trustees hurt those students’: Pflag York Region president urges Catholic school administration to fly Pride flag in act of defiance to board
The Mental Health Commission reports almost 70 per cent of transitioning people thought about suicide.

Ontario Student Trustees' Association voiced similar concerns in a statement Sept. 14, saying, “we firmly believe the decision to determine one’s identity is not subject to parental or teacher authority…We hope Ontario schools will continue to serve as safe and welcoming spaces where each student is free to be who they are.”

Ideally, parents and caregivers are involved in their trans child's journey, but as was shown earlier this year when a York Catholic District School Board meeting became disruptive over the issue of "safe spaces", not all parents are prepared to provide familial support, Tristan Coolman, president of Pflag York Region, said.

"Protesters were exhibiting just the worst behaviours you could imagine … advocating for things and saying some really awful things to queer kids and adults in the room."

Coolman said a parents have a responsibility to provide a home that is safe and comfortable enough for the child to share this deeply personal information.

Parents can show their openness by watching movies with queer characters and talking about it afterward, or talking about topics in the news, emphasizing this is a household that welcomes everyone, he said.

"It’s still difficult for kids to come out, but those are the things that make it easier."

As for the upcoming parade, Coolman says Pflag has formally made the recommendation to York Pride organizers to reject future applications of the Ford government, Ontario PC Party and Conservative Party of Canada until they better demonstrate their support.

"We will do everything necessary to make them feel as unwelcome as they are making queer Ontarians feel in their everyday life."