The NSCSW recently joined a collective of concerned professional associations and community groups to reach out to the provincial government and ask them to act now to protect the rights of children. Recent reports indicate that schools are inconsistently applying the provincial Guidelines for Supporting Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students, sometimes with disastrous effect.
These guidelines urgently need to be updated to reflect the bans on conversion practices that were legislated in Nova Scotia and federally. No child should be subjected to harmful, illegal conversion practices. No child should be afraid that their school will refuse to support them if they reveal themselves to be queer, trans, or questioning.
After you read the open letter below, please take action!
- Share the letter with your community
- Reach out to your MLA (look up their name, find their contact information, and use the We Have Power guide to tell them what needs to change)
- Attend the lunch & learn “Protecting the well-being of 2SLGBTQIA+ kids” online on July 31! This virtual event will feature several of the letter’s supporters as panelists.
We also encourage parents of affected kids to approach the ombudsman if they haven’t done so already. Children and youth can also contact the ombudsman independently (here’s a youth-oriented video explanation of the ombudsman role). We remain hopeful that an independent child and youth commission will soon be available for kids to contact instead.
June 8, 2023
The Honourable Becky Druhan
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
Sent via email: email@example.com
Re: Open Letter – Protecting 2SLGBTQIA+ kids from SOGIECE
Dear Minister Druhan,
This letter is sent to you out of concern for the number of children whose lives are impacted by the current gaps in policies and practices within the school systems across our province. This letter was drafted collaboratively by concerned health care professionals, mental health therapists, educators and community advocates, and grounded in the lived experiences of members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia recently published a guide (Let Me Be Me, 2022) to help organizations in Nova Scotia comply with the new legal requirements of Bill C-4, which prohibits a continuum of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression change efforts (SOGIECE). This prohibition includes any practice or effort, explicit or implicit, that pressures a person to change their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression to heterosexual and/or cisgender. SOGIECE includes conversion “therapy” practices but also encompasses other ways and situations in which 2SLGBTQIA+ people experience harmful pressure to suppress their authentic selves.
Many of us are trained in the Standards of Care as defined by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health. We recognize the psychosocial and structural factors that affect mental and physical health, and are joining together across professions and disciplines to affirm our shared commitment to ensuring that every child’s gender identity and expression is supported and affirmed. We believe that this is essential to ensuring that the implementation of laws and policies aligns with the principles by which they were drafted.
We are advocating for first voice representation at every table where decisions are being made that can affect the education and well-being of children, and for staff at all schools in Nova Scotia to be appropriately trained so that they are prepared to ensure the safety of transgender and nonbinary children. We are writing to offer ourselves in support of the work that is happening at the regional level, led by health equity consultants, to ensure that every school, every classroom, and every student’s lived experience reflects the intention of the laws that are in place.
There is an urgent need to ensure greater consistency in school practices and policy across the province; we have received many concerning reports about significant variations from one school to another, as well as within the Regional Centres for Education and the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, in how the Guidelines for Supporting Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students are being implemented. For example, some 2SLGBTQIA+ youth have informed their health providers that their schools have closed or restricted access to gender-neutral bathrooms because school staff are concerned that students may use these spaces to smoke; even well-meaning staff can undermine the rights of 2SLGBTQIA+ children if they lack appropriate context and guidance for how to protect those rights. Unless first-voice representation is integrated into decision-making at the school level, these variations will continue, and children will continue to be at risk.
We are therefore writing to request representation of members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community alongside other equity-seeking groups in every context where decisions are made.
Failure to appropriately implement laws and policies related to this issue creates a significant risk to children’s safety. Closing the identified gaps in laws, policy and practices that affect children and youth is crucial. Children have a right to live free from discrimination everywhere they live, learn, play, work and grow.
Given the recent ban that criminalizes SOGIECE in all its forms, an increase in 2SLGBTQIA+ representation on advisory committees will help decision-makers identify the ways that education systems, structures and the application of policies reinforce cis-gendered binary identities that contribute to the oppression of queer and transgender people. We would like to ensure that there be a first voice representative from the 2SLGBTQIA+ community on all of the Department of Education’s agencies, boards and commissions, particularly the Provincial Advisory Council on Education, and every local school advisory council.
We also recommend that all organizations concerned with ensuring the well-being of children immediately adopt the binding international legal standards articulated in the Yogyakarta Principles, which outline the necessary principles to apply international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Children experience risk and harm when the institutions meant to protect them do not fulfil their responsibilities. When rights are denied or violated and children are discriminated against, 2SLGBTQIA+ children are at a heightened risk for mental health challenges, self-harm, addiction, suicidal ideation, and suicide behaviours. These risks are amplified when schools are inconsistent in their applications of legal mandates due to unconscious bias, lack of training, and inadequate representation in decision-making processes that affect children’s day-to-day lives. When each child is supported and respected to be their authentic self, and to have a deep sense of belonging, they can thrive.
In summary, we offer you these three recommendations, and implore you to recognize their urgency:
- Update resources for schools and educators (e.g. Guidelines for Supporting Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students) to reflect provincial and federal legislation regarding SOGIECE and the Yogyakarta Principles;
- enact first-voice representation at every table where decisions are being made that can affect the education and well-being of 2SLGBTQIA+ children, to ensure their rights and needs are fully considered when developing policy and practice; and
- immediately launch Nova Scotia’s long-awaited Child and Youth Commission so that children whose interests are not being served have a way to safely make their voices heard in the decisions that profoundly affect their day-to-day lives.
We hope you will accept assistance from the co-signers of this letter – which include health professionals and mental health clinicians – to help identify and close these critical policy gaps so that they more closely align with the guiding principles for social policy identified by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-NS and the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers.
Signed with hope and determination,
Nova Scotia College of Social Workers
Canadian Mental Health Association – NS Division
Cape Breton Transgender Network
Doctors Nova Scotia
Healthy Populations Institute, Dalhousie University
North End Community Health Centre
Nova Scotia College of Family Physicians
Nova Scotia Society of Occupational Therapists
The Youth Project
Robert Bartlett, RSW
Jey Benoit, MSW, RSW
Gary Burrill; MLA for Halifax Chebucto
Claudia Chender; NSNDP leader & MLA for Dartmouth South
Zach Churchill; NS Liberal Caucus leader & MLA for Yarmouth
Jacquie Cohen, PhD, RPsych
Dr. Bruce Cooks; associate professor at Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine & Department of Pediatrics
Kendra Coombes; MLA for Cape Breton Centre-Whitney Pier
Katie Cripps, MSW, SWC
Julien Davis, MSW, RSW
Maj. (ret) Ian Easter
Gabriel Enxuga, MSW, RSW
Andrew Ford, RSW
Suzy Hansen; MLA for Halifax Needham
Shannon Hardy, MSW, RSW
Amy Harlow, SWC; student in MSW program
Dr Leisha Hawker; family physician at NECHC & president of Doctors Nova Scotia
Kay Jenson, M.Sc., R.Psych
Sara F.L. Kirk, PhD; scientific director, Healthy Populations Institute
Lisa Lachance; NSNDP 2SLGBTQI+ Affairs spokesperson & MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island
Susan Leblanc; MLA for Dartmouth North
Dr Andrew Lynk; chair of Dalhousie Department of Pediatrics
Becca MacDougall, MSW, RSW
Shannon McCready, MSW, RSW
Veronica Merryfield; co-founder CBTN
Arati Mokashi MD, FRCPC; pediatric endocrinologist
Karn Nichols; executive director at CMHA-NS
Rae Paul, SWC; BIPOC engagement coordinator at The Youth Project
Debra Philpitt, RSW
Janet Pothier, RSW
Fiona Smith, MSW, RSW
Lisa Spinney-Hutton & Andrew Spinney-Hutton; parents
Cynthia Voegeli, MA, RCT
Brody Weaver; education coordinator at The Youth Project
Natasha Yorke-Phillip, R.Psych
Dr. Sue Zinck, MD, FRCPC; child & adolescent psychiatrist at IWK, associate professor at Dalhousie Department of Psychiatry
The Honourable Tim Houston, Premier of Nova Scotia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Honourable Michelle Thompson, Minister of Health & Wellness (Health.Minister@novascotia.ca)
The Honourable Brian Comer, Minister Responsible for the Office of Addictions and Mental Health (MentalHealth.Minister@novascotia.ca)