Including transgender rights to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Criminal Code began in 2016. Bill C-16, an amendment that protects individuals from discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and gender expression, was passed into law in June 2017. It represents a crucial victory for individuals who are gender non-conforming.
Gender identity describes an individual’s subjective sense of their own gender, regardless of their biological sexual characteristics. Gender expression reflects how someone chooses to manifest their gender. The term, “transgender”, in particular, refers to individuals who do not conform to their assigned biological gender and instead identify with a different gender identity.
The new law provides legal protection against discrimination but what about children and adolescents, who are not very likely to advocate for their legal rights?
Montreal-based psychologist, Richard Lipman, who works with gender non-conforming individuals of all ages, points out that the research suggests that kids who face bullying due to their gender identity or expression are likely to carry this trauma throughout their lives.
Despite legal protection and increased awareness of transgender issues, the stigma suffered by gender non-conforming youth is still significant in schools across Canada.
In order to increase the sense of welcoming and acceptance for transgender youth, there are critical steps that educators and parents can take to support kids who are questioning their gender identity.
Richard Lipman suggests, “The ultimate goal is to provide a safe, judgment-free space for kids and teens to explore their own feelings and ideas about gender. Firstly, adults need to be conscious of their own gender biases. We all have them and we tend, often unwittingly, to impose them on children.” Lipman continues, “Secondly, we need to allow children to express themselves and pursue their interests in a natural way, without insisting that they conform to gender stereotypes. Third, we need to be especially careful not to shame kids for behaving in ways that we associate with their “opposite gender”. Lastly, as kids grow they may question how whether or not they identify with their biological gender and adults must be mindful to avoid judging them for this exploration or pressuring them to be a certain way. If we can manage to do all of that, and protect gender non-conforming kids from being bullied, we may just give them the sense that they can discover their true selves, regardless of societal pressure”.
Greater sensitivity and support from educators and parents is crucial for children to feel safe enough to understand their own gender identities.