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
This article was updated August, 2017

“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 has 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.

StaceyJenniferLove

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), Ontario, which provided 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 was a life-line to TDG people’s communities.

CMHA-HKPR ran a highly successful pilot of the Gender Journeys program between 2013 and 2017, with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, but the program was shut down due to a lack of financial capacity, earlier this year. (2017)

CMHA recently announced (August, 2017) that new funding has been obtained to  reintroduce some Gender Journeys programming this fall, and reinvent it on a limited scale. (See below)

“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 worked 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 provided 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 (trans) community is evolving at leaps and bounds. The need for our services has intensified.”

With funds from the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough and Trent University, and through partnerships with the Peterborough Family Health Team, Peterborough 360 Clinic, and Trent University Student Wellness Centre, CMHA- KHPR will be running two peer-based education and support groups for transgender and gender diverse individuals beginning in October and continuing until March, 2018.

Before being shut down, Gender Journeys had 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 were 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, the Gender Journeys program is integral in expanding awareness, sensitivity and knowledge throughout our communities, reducing stigma and establishing acceptance of TGD people,”

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.

“Allies are really important,” said Tkachuk. “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 the program become better known, more people were coming out and asking for education.” 

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, but in other ways. 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

Gender Journeys groups provide current information about transgender issues and opportunities for peer-to-peer connections, education, outreach, and support. 

Beginning in October, one Gender Journeys group will operate on-campus at Trent University, in collaboration with Trent University Student Wellness Centre. The second Gender Journeys group will operate at CMHA-HKPR. in Peterborough, serving transgender and gender diverse individuals who are receiving primary health care services through the Peterborough 360 Clinic or the Peterborough Family Health Team.

In addition to the two groups, some individual outreach and support will be offered to transgender and gender diverse individuals in isolated circumstances, where access to group services can be difficult.

Gender Journeys services will be delivered by CMHA-HKPR. staff with lived experience as transgender individuals, who are also trained to provide Gender Journeys education and support, and are skilled facilitators and educators.

CMHA-HKPR continues to seek additional resources to further develop the program. If you are interested in supporting the sustainability of Gender Journeys, please consider making a donation to the Gender Journeys program by visiting  www.cmhahkpr.ca and clicking  the “donate” tab.

CMHA-HKPR
415 Water St., Peterborough, Ontario
705-748-6711, ext. 2102

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

Educate 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.