Today and every day, we stand with our youth

by Colleen Dockerty | May 17, 2024
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Today and every day, we stand with our youth

by Colleen Dockerty | May 17, 2024
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On this day of International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, we stand with youth

Young people deserve the freedom to be their authentic selves. They deserve to learn and grow in a safe environment. All youth deserve to be respected in school - including trans and gender-diverse youth.    

But some governments have been rolling back protections for trans and gender diverse youth. Waves of recent legislation across Canada, fueled by disinformation and the views of a small minority, are targeting and eroding the rights of queer, trans and gender-diverse youth. While these laws are framed as protecting children – the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.  

What’s at stake 

I worry about children who are forced to hide their identities and might be bullied at school. Children should be supported to navigate their gender identity safely and freely as they grow and develop – including their choice of pronouns. This is crucial for their mental health and self-worth – don't we all want our children to feel safe and respected at school?  

I worry about the consequences of withholding essential education about health and sexuality from children and youth. Youth have the right to learn about things like healthy relationships, consent, how to get help if they are abused and so much more. Young people’s access to information about the diversity of human sexuality and gender identity is crucial to acceptance, inclusion and respect.  

I worry that divisive rhetoric and disinformation will erode trust between teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, and parents. The vast majority are allies and work together to support the well-being of children and youth. They create nurturing environments where youth feel seen, heard, valued and supported as they develop their identities.   

I worry about children who do not have a supportive home environment. It can be tough to feel like you're different while you're growing up.  If youth fear speaking with their parents, being rejected and kicked out of their home, who could they turn to? With this legislation, they may no longer have someone to lean on, due to teachers feeling stuck and unable to support students. Children have the right to privacy and safety, and a growing ability to make decisions about their own bodies that should be understood and respected. Children must be able to seek out support from teachers if they are not safe at home.   

I worry about the denial of gender-affirming, evidence-based health care to young people. Youth should have access to age and developmentally-appropriate, evidence-based, gender-affirming care as recommended by medical experts. This includes puberty blockers, reversible medications that delay the onset of puberty and provide time for adolescents to explore their gender identity without the distress of undergoing irreversible physical changes.  

What actions you can take  

As a Registered Nurse and an advocate for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, I’ve witnessed first-hand the harmful repercussions of disinformation, bullying, transphobia, and sexual abuse among youth. While these recent developments across Canada leave me deeply worried even more young people will be harmed, I know very well how powerful a collective can be when it speaks up for facts over fear. 

In our work at Oxfam, we champion young people’s rights to autonomy, agency, and decision making over their own health, bodies and lives.  These rights include the right to accurate, evidence-based, and non-judgmental information about health and sexuality, and to right to freely define one’s own sexuality, including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, free from discrimination, coercion, exploitation, and violence. And while I am deeply worried about the denial of these rights, I also know that the power of people and public pressure has worked in the past, and will continue to work. 

On this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, let’s come together across our diverse communities and stand with our youth. Here are three ways you can take action: 

  1. Educate yourself and others about queer, trans and gender-diverse identities, experiences, and issues 
  2. Support movements like Momentum, that seek to accelerate social and gender justice for 2SLGBTQIA+ people 
  3. Use your power and influence to speak up for trans and gender diverse youth in your community 

We all want our schools to be safe and respectful for our children. Youth are already speaking out and taking action. Let’s stand in solidarity with our youth – including vulnerable queer, trans and gender-diverse youth – so they may thrive and flourish while embracing their true and authentic selves. 

Colleen Dockerty is a Women Rights Knowledge Specialist at Oxfam Canada. 


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