From Rejection to Acceptance – a Trans Person’s Story of How CMHA’S GENDER JOURNEYS Throws a Life-Line to Trans’ Communities

By Melodie McCullough

“I’m sorry, but you’re just not a good fit.

Stacey Love-Jolicoeur does not like those words. In fact, she hates them.

As a certified paramedic, a certified firefighter, a certified rehabilitation counsellor, and a registered orthotist prosthetist technician, with experience in all those positions, she has not been able to find work in those fields. Job interview after job interview, rejection after rejection, she has lost count of the times she heard those words.

And bigotry, hatred, bias, discrimination and ostracization are the words that come to her lips when she recounts her experiences.

Why?   Because Love-Jolicoeur, 57, identifies as a 2-spirited trans person who transitioned in the last decade from her sex assigned at birth, having first identified at age nine – and her experiences of searching for employment are part and parcel of similar unfortunate, yet typical, transphobic stories of so many others in her community.

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Stacey Love-Jolicoeur

Are you thinking transgender bathrooms? That’s the tip of the iceberg. There’s housing discrimination, unsupportive families, low incomes due to employment barriers, under-employment, the need for “passing”, lack of general medical care and waiting lists for hormone therapy and gender confirming surgery, harassment in the workplace and elsewhere, and being called by past names and improper pronouns. Many trans people are street people. Risk for sexual and physical assault is high. Safety is a huge issue. It all adds up.

“These reactions to trans people are creating stigma and causing terrible, terrible mental health issues for them,” said Love-Jolicoeur, who lives in Belleville, Ontario, in a recent interview. “For example, suicide is one of the (trans) community’s most debilitating, stigma-induced problems that many, many people face.”

77% of transgender Ontarians have seriously considered suicide; 43% have attempted it …Youth and those experiencing transphobia and lack of support are at heightened risk. Suicidality varies greatly by medical transition status, with those who are planning to transition sex, but have not yet begun, being most vulnerable: Trans PULSE. 

Love-Jolicoeur is lucky. In her darkest hours, she found help and comfort – and the strength to help others — through Gender Journeys, a program of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge, (CMHA HKPR) which provides programs, education and support services for TGD people — transgender people, gender diverse individuals, people questioning their gender identity — plus family, partners and loved ones of TGD people in four counties, including Peterborough, Northumberland, Victoria, Haliburton and the Township of Brock.

Put simply, it’s a life-line to TDG people’s communities.

“Because of Gender Journeys, I am able to be the person I am today, and I am able to offer support to the community. It was my strength and it helped carry me through,” said Love-Jolicoeur, who now works as an education and support worker for the program in Peterborough. “Lots of wonderful things have come out of this and as we educate people and become more aware, it reduces the stigma.”

She said it has created opportunities for people in the trans community to reduce the feelings of isolation and depression and to express and understand themselves as their true, authentic selves. It also provides opportunities for parents, partners and families to understand and be more accepting of their loved ones, and be able to support them in their journey, she said.

“The community is evolving at leaps and bounds. The need for our services has intensified.”

Gender Journeys, now in its third year, has been expanding its services each year in scope and locations across the four counties, said program co-ordinator Jan Tkachuk from her Peterborough office, and there are now waiting lists.

“So much bigotry and harm that TGD people experience comes from ignorance, rather than ill will,” she continued. “Through education and collaborative efforts with other agencies, services and Primary Health Care, we are integral in expanding awareness, sensitivity and knowledge throughout our communities, reducing stigma and establishing acceptance of TGD people,”

“As empowering as our Gender Journeys programs have been, however, we are at risk of losing that momentum and all the positivity and supports that it provides if we cannot find sustainable funding by October of this year,” she said.

Trans Ontarians nearly universally report that they have experienced some type of ‘everyday transphobia’…96% had heard that trans people were not normal, 73% had been made fun of for being trans, and 78% reported their family had been hurt or embarrassed. These daily indignities can take their toll; 77% worried about growing old as a trans person, and 67% feared they would die young.

 

The program is now funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and CMHA HKPR is pursuing a number of funding avenues for the future.

“We’ve created this wonderful thing and people are asking for it more and more. For all of it to suddenly stop would be a huge loss, not just for TDG individuals, but for the whole community,” said Tkachuk.

“Allies are really important. We recently had a request to talk to store owners in Lindsay. It’s encouraging because that wouldn’t have happened three years ago. As we become better known, more people are coming out and asking for education,” she said.

“So many people have said to me, ‘I’m afraid of using the wrong words’, “But TGD people care that you care, so if you don’t know, ask.”

SUICIDE PREVENTION

Love-Jolicoeur has received a “tremendous amount of training” from CMHA HKPR through workshops, seminars and conferences, she said, which, along with her own experiences, dedication, and empathy, has given her confidence not only with her work at Gender Journeys. She also acts privately as a diversity speaker to groups, and is a suicide prevention counsellor and very active as an all-round participant in the LGBTQ2S community.

“I realized it was my calling as an elder, healer, and mentor to help others who are struggling with their journey. It’s my passion,” said Love-Jolicoeur, who is of the Métis Woodlands Painted Feather tribe of Bancroft, Ontario.

When four people in Belleville’s trans community died by suicide in four weeks last October, it had a huge impact that made people realise something had to be done. Love-Jolicoeur is part of a suicide prevention coalition now being formed there, with many agencies coming together to address the problem of suicides in the trans community.

87% of transgender students feel unsafe in at least one place at school, such as change rooms, washrooms and hallways: TRANS Pulse

 

She has also been the co-ordinator of TRANSforumQuinte for the last three years. It’s a support group that has been operating for almost five years, totally unfunded, offering weekly support and information at group meetings to meet the growing demand for services in the Belleville area. It can be accessed at www.transforumquinte.ca for more information or to find out about weekly meetings.

Love-Jolicoeur is also a trained volunteer counsellor for TRANS Lifeline (1-877-330-6366), a suicide prevention telephone service, providing peer support.

“People don’t suicide to kill themselves. They suicide to kill the pain. I get calls at three or four o’clock in the morning from people who are in crisis or seeking help, maybe because their families don’t understand. There are many, many reasons. It’s a wonderful service, but totally underfunded.”

The trans students surveyed consistently reported the highest rates of harassment. Seventy-four per cent said they had been verbally harassed because of their gender identity, while 49 % had been sexually harassed, and 37% said they had been physically harassed. (Egale Canada Human Rights Trust)

 Love-Jolicoeur also gives numerous presentations about diversity and inclusion to companies, government and employment agencies, and front line service workers.

“It’s my passion to bring social justice to all in our community,” Love-Jolicoeur concluded. “And when I see the smile on another person’s face or I see compassion, acceptance, understanding, that’s what fuels my fire.”

GENDER JOURNEYS

Offered through the Canadian Mental Health Association, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge, Gender Journeys provides programming, education, and support services for transgender people, gender diverse individuals, people questioning their gender identity, and family, partners and loved ones of transgender, gender diverse and questioning folks. Through its education and workshops, CMHA also offers opportunities for community agencies, organizations and the public, as a whole, to learn more about TDG people and help create a community of inclusion.

Core Group : Free ten-week psychoeducational and support group that explores gender identity and gender roles, with up-to-date information on these topics and the process of transitioning, while fostering community support and connection.

Youth Gender Journeys Group: Specifically for youth who are exploring their gender identity and expression.

Beyond Gender Journeys Group: For those who have already completed the Core Gender Journeys group or are established in their transgender or gender diverse identity, this eight-week facilitated group provides a dedicated space for TDG people to explore important life issues with others who understand what it is to be TDG.

Partner Support Group: A program to provide knowledge, support and meaningful community connections to significant others, spouses or partners of a transgender or gender diverse person.

Parent and Guardian Support Group: A support group for parents, grandparents, and other family who may be feeling isolated, or who wish to lend support.

Drop-Ins: Held in Peterborough, Cobourg and Lindsay, these groups offer peer and one-on-one support for all transgender, 2-spirit, gender diverse, and questioning individuals, with loosely structured forums for discussing current issues, connecting with local community and getting practical and helpful information outside of the structured Gender Journeys programs. For dates, times and locations, call the phone number below.

Workshops: Gender Journeys offers workshops and training on trans identities to workplaces, community organizations, health professionals, and schools.

Gender Journeys is part of and is funded through the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the government of Ontario.

To donate: www.cmhahkpr.ca/get-involved/donate/

415 Water St., Peterborough,s

705-748-6711, ext. 2102

Here are some tips on how to be a good ally (from http://www.transforumquinte.ca):

Advocate yourself. Know about local resources that are trans competent.

Honour the trans person’s requests about disclosure. Don’t assume. Always ask permission to speak to new people.

Don’t bring up history or talk about the trans person’s past without them instigating conversation or knowing they are comfortable talking about it with you.

Be respectful and use preferred name and pronouns. If you’re unsure what they prefer, don’t be scared to ask.

Ask about boundaries. Don’t assume they are comfortable discussing all aspects of their transition or life, for example, surgeries, sexual orientation or past.