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Safe education for transgender children demanded on day of remembrance

MLAs, families call for gender-diverse student supports from education minister

3 min read
Man with back turned with transgender flag poking out of back pocket.
caption Individuals and families gathered at Province House on Monday for the raising of the transgender flag.
Jacqueline Newsome

A crowd of about 20 gathered at Province House on Monday to call out rising levels of hate facing transgender children in Nova Scotia’s schools.

“In the last couple of weeks I have fielded five requests from parents for help for the hatred and violence they have experienced in schools in Cape Breton,” said Veronica Merryfield, founder of the Cape Breton Transgender Network at the ceremony. 

Transgender day of remembrance, the occasion of the gathering, coincides this year with National Day of the Child. The day remembers the trans community members who have experienced violence or who were killed for being transgender or queer.

This year shone a light on the adversity facing gender-diverse youth.

“The fact that (the days) intertwine is more important than ever,” said Nova Scotia NDP House Leader Susan Leblanc. 

At the gathering, Merryfield spoke of a spike in abuse directed at the 2SLGBTQIA+ community during counter-protests condemning transphobic education policies, and an uptick in violence and deaths of transgender youth in the province. 

“In the nearly 30 years since I transitioned I have lost so many friends, and this year is no different,” said Merryfield. 

Crowd gathered in front of flagpole with transgender flag.
caption MLA Lisa Lachance addresses the crowd at Province House before raising a transgender flag to half-mast.
Jacqueline Newsome

NDP MLA Lisa Lachance, who led the raising of the transgender flag in front of Province House, called on Education Minister Becky Druhan to act on rising transphobic violence in schools, emphasizing the universal right of children to a safe education. 

“We know from the student success survey that Nova Scotian students don’t feel safe in schools,” said Lachance. The MLA said the issue is pronounced in Halifax. The survey gathers anonymous feedback from students on their well-being at school.

“It is definitely an increase. I get emails from families all the time who are concerned for their young person who has had an experience of violence at school. We do have a problem, even if it’s not showing up in official policy changes,” Lachance said.

Lachance pointed to support for transgender students that schools are well placed to provide, including dedicated support workers for transgender youth, expanded support for gay-straight alliances, and a primary school curriculum representing gender-diverse families. 

“The department has funding, it’s just having that wherewithal and responsibility,” said NDP MLA Suzy Hansen, who was also present at Province House. 

Attending the ceremony were families directly impacted by trans awareness in schools. Six-year-old Linus Wilke and her mother Bethany gathered to show their support.

“Linus is our transgender daughter, she is six years old, and she knew that she was a she when she was four,” said Bethany Wilke. 

“It was very important to us to come down and see that there is a little part of the community that supports her and loves her.” 

For any transgender youth seeking resources for their health, those gathered pointed to the community organizations that create the safe spaces needed for transgender children, among them Queer and Trans Therapists of Nova Scotia, the Youth Project, and the Halifax Sexual Health Centre.

 

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Jacqueline Newsome

Jacqueline is a proud King's Master's student from Toronto who loves to write about matters of public safety.

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