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Religion can make gay youth more likely to commit suicide

A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine last month found a link between religiosity and suicide among gay and questioning participants.

The study used data from the 2011 University of Texas at Austin’s Research Consortium, which surveyed 21,247 18- to 30-year-olds. 2.3% identified as gay or lesbian, 3.3% as bi, and 1.1% were questioning.

LGBQ youth reported that they had attempted suicide at least once in their lives at a higher rate than straight people. 5% of straight people said that they had attempted suicide, while the rates for LGBQ youth ranged from 14% to 20%.

While studies have already shown that queer youth are more likely to have attempted suicide, this study went a step further and asked participants to rate the importance of religion in their lives.

Gay and lesbian youth who said that religion was important to them were 38% more likely to report recent suicidal thoughts compared to gays and lesbians who said that religion wasn’t important to them.

The difference was more stark for questioning youth – they were three times more likely to report recent suicidal thoughts if they were religious.

Religiosity was not correlated with suicidal thoughts among bi youth, who reported high rates of suicidal thoughts no matter their religiosity.

For straight people, the correlation was the opposite: they were less likely to report suicidal thoughts if they were religious.

“Religion has typically been seen as something that would protect somebody from thoughts of suicide or trying to kill themselves, and in our study our evidence suggests that may not be the case for everyone, particularly for those we refer to as sexual minority people,” said John Blosnich of West Virginia University, one of the study’s authors.

“It can be very scary to be caught in a space where your religion tells you that you are a ‘sinner’ just for being who you are,” he said. “Sexual minority people may feel abandoned, they may experience deep sadness and anger, and they may worry what this means for their families ― especially if their families are very religious too.”

The study did not ask participants what their religion was, so there isn’t any data to show whether more supportive religions were less correlated with suicidal thoughts.

The authors conclude that faith-based suicide prevention services “should be willing and equipped to assist all people who seek their services, regardless of sexual orientation.”

The problem is that the “gay condemning” parts of a religion cannot be separated from the “suicide preventing” parts. Religious conservatives often say that they are appalled by suicide and want to help queer people, and they imagine that they can be supportive of LGBQ people while still condemning homosexuality.

That’s not how it works, but a lot of religious people aren’t willing to change their opinions, even when people’s lives literally depend on it.

Canadians will soon be able to ID gender as ‘X’ on their passports

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen says that by Aug. 31 Canadians will have a third option to identify their gender on passports.

Canadians will soon have a third option to identify their gender on passports under new rules that will come into effect by the end of the month.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said he was making the change so all Canadians can feel safe to be themselves and express their gender as they choose.

“By introducing an ‘X’ gender designation in our government-issued documents, we are taking an important step towards advancing equality for all Canadians regardless of gender identity or expression,” Hussen said in a statement.

Beginning Aug. 31, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will introduce an interim measure to allow people to identify themselves as having a gender that is unspecified.

The federal government did not say what the interim measures would include, but did explain that they will only be in place until the government can print documents with an X instead of an M for male or F for female.

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A sex field is mandatory for travel documents under International Civil Aviation Organization rules. ICAO allows one of three markers: F for female, M for male or X for “unspecified.”

Sex traditionally refers to a male or female, based on biological or physical anatomy such as genitalia, while gender refers to how a person identifies personally and in society. The change announced by Hussen will allow Canadian passport holders, including transgender travellers and those who do not identify as male or female, to check off an X box.

If travelling to a country that doesn’t treat transgender people equally under the law, it remains up to the traveller to review the federal government-issued travel advisories for that region before leaving Canada.

Australia, Denmark, Germany, Malta, New Zealand and Pakistan currently allow for the use of an X category. India, Ireland and Nepal are among the countries that provide a third-option category.

‘It’s progress’

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told a Senate committee in May that the federal government would be updating its gender identity policies across federal departments.

IRCC already removed a requirement for proof of sex reassignment surgery for persons requesting to change the sex marker on documents issued by that department.

The change has been applauded by some transgender Canadians who say it is a move in the right direction.

“I’m thrilled, it’s a step forward for our society. It’s progress,” said Laura Budd, who plans to switch her sex marker to an X soon.

Budd explains that she was designated as male at birth but identifies as a woman, and says hiding that identity since she was a child has caused her to experience guilt, shame and depression.

 

Laura Budd says she is thrilled by the move.

Joshua Ferguson, who identifies as a non-binary transgender person, which means their identity is neither male nor female, also welcomes the move.

“I think this is definitely a positive step in the right direction,” they said, adding they will be the first in line to apply for the designation despite questions they have about how such a move could be implemented.

Ferguson recently applied to have their Ontario birth certificate changed to recognize their gender as non-binary but was told the province is still working on a gender-neutral option for birth certificates and isn’t ready to offer the designation yet.

“How would I apply for [a passport] if I can’t even obtain a birth certificate — or my other forms of ID that would state non-binary options — that you need to submit as proof of ID when you do a change of status on your passport?” they said.

 

Writer and filmmaker Joshua M. Ferguson uses the pronouns they, them, and their to reflect their gender identity as a non-binary trans person.

Some say the move by IRCC does not go far enough. Saskatoon parent Fran Forsberg, whose nine-year-old child Renn is transgender, wants to have all gender-identity markers removed from identification documents in Canada.

“It’s a step in the right direction but it’s still not acceptable,” said Forsberg. “Putting an X there singles people out as different. There’s no reason to have gender or sexual identity on identification, none whatsoever.”

That position was echoed by barbara findlay, a Vancouver lawyer. She says that while it’s better for transgender people to have an option that better reflects their reality, the change does not go far enough.

“One’s gender identity is your own business and the state has no business in the undies of the nation,” said findlay, who spells her name with lowercase letters. “We don’t applaud this development by the federal government.”

Better mental health among trans people addressed by their preferred name: Study

Transgender young people may be vulnerable to unintended disclosure, or ‘outing,’ if teachers use a legal name rather than the student’s preferred name, a researcher says.

What’s in a name?

Well, quite a bit for most of us.

It’s a fundamental part of our identity. It expresses who we are.

And being addressed by the name you prefer is a sign of respect and dignity.

In a recent study at the University of Texas, researchers took a closer look at the importance of a name for young people who are transgender.

They found that participants who were allowed to use their chosen name at work, at school or at home showed a lower risk of depression and suicide.

“Many kids who are transgender have chosen a name that is different than the one that they were given at birth,” says Stephen Russell, a professor in the department of human development and family sciences at the university and lead author of the study.

“The settings where they were able to use their preferred name, the stronger their mental health was.” – Stephen Russell, University of Texas

“We showed that the settings where they were able to use their preferred name, the stronger their mental health was.”

For their study, which was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Russell and his team interviewed 129 people between the ages of 15 and 21 from three American cities.

The question was simple: Were they able to go by their preferred name at home, at school, at work or with friends, or were they stuck with the name that appears on their official documents?

“The roster the teacher has is going to have whatever your enrolment name was, and for many people that’s been since their parents enrolled them in kindergarten,” said Russell, adding that trans youth may be vulnerable to unintended disclosure, or “outing,” if teachers use a legal name rather than the student’s preferred name.

“So being in a class and every morning that name called — if it’s not your name, if it’s not the name that you want it to be, especially if it isn’t how you look and present yourself to the world, is just really frustrating, undermining, and can be overwhelming for students.”

For example, says Russell, “If your name is Mary and you feel like a boy, that might be a hard name to live in.” Or “if you go to a new high school as a girl but you keep getting called Robert by your teachers, that would be undermining.”

In the study, the participants who said they could use their name at school, home, work or among friends were significantly happier compared to their peers who could not. Those whose preferred name was used in all four areas experienced 71 per cent fewer symptoms of depression, 34 per cent lower reported thoughts of suicide and 65 per cent lower occurrence suicide attempts.

Being addressed by their preferred name in just one of the four areas was associated with a 29 per cent decrease in suicidal thoughts.

“I’ve been doing research on LGBT youth for almost 20 years and even I was surprised by how clear that link was,” Russell told CBC News.

‘Fairly simple thing we can do’

“Transgender youth are at higher odds of having serious mental health problems,” says Gu Li, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia who helped crunch the numbers for this study.

They face stigma, bullying and victimization.

“Calling them by their chosen name is a fairly simple thing we can do for them,” Li says.

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Elizabeth Saewyc, a professor at UBC’s school of nursing, calls it “pervasive distress.”

Saewyc has for the past 20 years done extensive research into vulnerable and marginalized adolescents and says, “When you’re transgender and everywhere you go there are subtle and obvious ways that people try to negate who you are, where people refuse to allow you to use the bathroom of your choice or refuse to accept your name or your gender identity, call you by the wrong pronouns, refuse to acknowledge you, that basically … says you don’t belong.”

Russell recognizes that the issue is complicated: “Emotionally complicated for families, administratively silly and complicated for education and health systems,” he said. “But it’s very clear that it makes a difference. So we should get over those silly administrative hurdles, and for families and friends, to try to figure out a way to get over our emotional hurdles, and try to support young people to be who they need to be.”

And that is what’s in a name.

Restaurant introduces gender-neutral greetings for inclusive dining experience

Ginger Hunt, general manager of ‘Hey Lucy,’ is pictured in the restaurant in Toronto on Saturday, April 7, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

A Toronto restaurant manager is trying to offer customers a more inclusive dining experience by encouraging servers to use gender-neutral greetings so not only “ladies” and “gents” feel welcome, but “friends” across the gender spectrum.

General manager Ginger Hunt said she wants everyone — including trans and non-binary customers — to enjoy their dining experience at Hey Lucy’s Cabbagetown location, which means asking waitstaff to avoid addressing customers with gender-specific language.

The Italian eatery’s efforts to adapt to society’s shifting understanding of gender came about after Hunt served a customer who was deeply upset about being referred to as a “lady.”

Hunt, a 20-year veteran of the food industry, said the encounter stuck with her.

“I’ve never given it enough thought, I don’t think, to realize I’m actually offending people sometimes, which is not my goal on any level,” she said in an interview.

Hunt said she started to pay more attention to how servers interacted with guests, noticing the frequency of greetings like “welcome, ladies” or “good evening, gentlemen.” She was particularly irked by the ubiquity of “guys” as a catch-all term to address groups of any gender makeup.

It was time to make a change, Hunt said, but she wasn’t sure how to go about it. She turned to her fellow service workers in the Food and Wine Industry Navigator Facebook group to ask for guidance about how to wean Hey Lucy’s servers off of gendered greetings.

“My team has been trying really hard and are mostly successful in breaking the habits of days gone by,” Hunt wrote in a post earlier this month. “How do you want be approached? How do you want to be served?

“We are in the business of serving everyone!!”

Dozens of group members responded to the post by offering suggestions for gender-neutral greetings like “good evening, folks,” or “how is everyone tonight?”

Nicole Gauthier, who worked as a server and bartender for 15 years, told Hunt she had been working to eliminate gendered vocabulary from her speech for some time, and the adjustment was “tough but doable.”

“Don’t make any assumptions,” she said in an interview, of her approach. “Let the guest lead you as opposed to you leading the guest.”

In response to a handful of negative reactions to Hunt’s Facebook post, 19-year-old barista Matt Isaac wanted to make it clear that being misgendered can be a “make-or-break” experience for trans customers like him.

“Often, when I go out with my friends, they will refer to us as ladies, and immediately, the experience at the restaurant will go rotten. We either won’t want to come back, or we won’t come back at all,” he said in an interview.

“It hurts to be misgendered because it just kind of reiterates that I don’t look like what I want to. I’m trying to present a certain way, and it’s not coming across.”

He said he wants to reward Hunt’s initiative by grabbing a meal at Hey Lucy, hoping it will send a message to other restaurants that a gender-neutral approach is not only respectful, but can be profitable too.

“When people get happier, it makes them want to spend more money. When businesses take this approach, I think they’ll thrive just a little bit more,” said Isaac.

“I definitely think it’s very worth advertising the approach, because it also advertises that times are changing, and if you haven’t gotten with the schedule, it is time to get with it.”

Sitting in a bustling Glad Day Bookshop, Toronto Trans Coalition Project chair Susan Gapka said the continued success of the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookseller — which in recent years has expanded to include a restaurant, bar and event space — shows there is a demand for spaces where trans and non-binary customers don’t have to educate staff before they dine.

Gapka said restaurants should accommodate these potential customers with more than just language and update their washroom facilities to be more gender inclusive.

Hunt said waitstaff at Hey Lucy are experimenting with addressing customers as “friends,” but she wants each server to pick a greeting that feels natural to them, and she doesn’t expect perfection.

“We didn’t get a big neon sign saying, ‘We won’t call you ladies,”‘ she said. “But if you don’t know, don’t assume anything.”

It’s a work in progress, Hunt said, but she hopes other restaurants take note of how many standard service pleasantries are loaded with gender-based assumptions that can offend customers, and hurt a business’s bottom line.

“This is bigger than I thought it was,” she said. “I think maybe there’s just not enough people, enough restaurants, enough service places being cautious of it.

“I certainly learned a lesson, and I’ve been in this industry a long time.”

 

Teacher Marries Her Girlfriend, and Then Catholic School Fires Her

Jocelyn Morffi, left, and Natasha Hass on their wedding day. Ms. Morffi was fired less than a week later. Credit Katerina Reyes-Gutierrez

Parents at a Catholic school in Miami said they were astounded that administrators had fired a first-grade teacher just days after she married her girlfriend, and now some of the teacher’s supporters on the faculty are scared that the school will retaliate against them as well.

The teacher, Jocelyn Morffi, was by all accounts one of the most popular educators at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School in Miami, where she taught for nearly seven years.

“I consider her the Mother Teresa of teachers,” said Samantha Mills, a parent whose son was in Ms. Morffi’s class last year.

But on Feb. 8, Ms. Mills and other parents at the school received an email from the principal saying that the school had made a “difficult and necessary decision,” and that Ms. Morffi would no longer be teaching at the school. The email was shared with The New York Times.

She was fired just days after marrying her girlfriend of about two years.

“The kids are very confused,” said Vanessa Almeida, whose children were tutored by Ms. Morffi. “My son said, ‘Mommy, I heard that Ms. Morffi got fired for getting married,’ and he looked at me and said, ‘What’s so bad about that?’”

On Feb. 9, Ms. Morffi spoke out in a statement on Instagram.

“This weekend I married the love of my life and unfortunately I was terminated from my job as a result,” she wrote in the post. “In their eyes I’m not the right kind of Catholic for my choice in partner.”

Mary Ross Agosta, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Miami, said in an email that Ms. Morffi was fired because she violated a contract stipulating that teachers must abide by Catholic teachings and traditions.

She declined to say whether Ms. Morffi had been fired for marrying a woman, noting that it was “a personnel issue.”

Four teachers attended the wedding, one of them told The Times. She asked not to be named out of fear for her career.

Ms. Morffi, left, and Ms. Hass. Credit Katerina Reyes-Gutierrez

After Ms. Morffi was fired, the teacher said, they were called into a meeting with school officials. She said they were warned that if they wanted to continue working for the school, they could not post pictures or attend events that would be considered supportive of same-sex marriage.

The human resources representative at the meeting “didn’t straight out say you’ll be fired if you do, but that’s what she led us to believe,” the teacher said, adding that she was disappointed about how the situation was handled.

“We pick and choose what is considered wrong and what we’re going to enforce, and I think it’s like a joke,” she said.

The teachers were also asked to read a memo written in 2015 by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, after Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was lifted.

The memo cited a statement from the Catholic Bishops of Florida that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and said that if employees did not lead lives that were consistent with Catholic teachings it could lead to firing, even if the behavior in question occurs outside of work.

When asked about the meeting between teachers and school officials, Ms. Agosta, the archdiocese spokeswoman, said in an email that the details were “personnel-related and not for publication.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Almeida and other parents searched for the right way to explain to their children what had happened. In the end, she told hers that the school had made a mistake.

“Many of the parents are outraged,” Ms. Almeida added. Other teachers at the school were not upholding Catholic values, she said, and yet no action was taken against them.

“Do they investigate teachers to see who is using birth control?” she asked.

Ms. Morffi was an exemplary teacher, several parents said, and one friend described her as a faithful Catholic.

She encouraged students to distribute food throughout Miami’s poor neighborhoods through a nonprofit she created called Teach Hope. She volunteered as a basketball coach. And Ms. Mills recalled that every morning, as Ms. Morffi’s students filed into class, she played feel-good songs, like Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Ms. Morffi has since been replaced by someone Ms. Agosta described as a permanent substitute teacher who is “working on her certification.”

Ricardo Oviedo, whose daughter was in Ms. Morffi’s class, said he was examining whether the parents can take legal action. Other parents said they had considered starting a petition, holding a protest or contacting the State Legislature.

In Florida, the state civil rights law does not refer to sexual orientation. Certain counties in Florida, however, have established protections for gay workers, including Miami-Dade, where the school is, but that code does not apply to religious organizations.

Ms. Morffi declined to comment through her lawyer, Erica Cañas.

“Jocelyn is humbled by all the love and support she has received,” Ms. Cañas said in a written statement. “She feels that the manner of her firing was unfair, not only to her, but to her students as well. At this time, we are considering our legal options.”

Although Roman Catholic doctrine opposes same-sex marriage, many parishes have become more accepting of gay and lesbian parishioners in recent years, said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and the author of “Building a Bridge,” a book about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics.

In December, the Rev. Gregory Greiten, a Roman Catholic priest in Wisconsin, wrote a column in The National Catholic Reporter, declaring: “I am gay.” He received a standing ovation when he told his parishioners. Also last year, the leader of the Archdiocese of Newark, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, offered a welcoming Mass for gay and lesbian Catholics and their families.

Still, according to New Ways Ministry, an advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, at least 80 church employees have lost their paid and volunteer jobs in L.G.B.T. employment disputes since 2007.

Mr. Oviedo said that he and his wife — like many other parents at the Miami school — did not even know Ms. Morffi’s sexual orientation until the school fired her.

“It’s just incredible,” Mr. Oviedo said, “in this day and age in 2018 you can lose your job over who you choose to love.”

Cree leaders show public support for LGBTQ, 2-spirited community

‘We all know that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is still strong in most of our communities’

Conference organizer Mathias (Maloose) Jolly and Bella M. Petawabano, chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. The two leaders spoke at a convention supporting the Cree LGBTQ and two-spirited community on Saturday in Montreal. (Jeremy Neeposh)

‘We all know that people of different sexual and gender identities have always been part of our story,’ Grand Chief Abel Bosum. (Corinne Smith/CBC)

Several key leaders of the Cree Nation, including Grand Chief Abel Bosum, came together Saturday to deliver a powerful public message of acceptance to two-spirited members of their communities.

“We all know that people of different sexual and gender identities have always been part of our story,” Bosum told attendees at the Cree-organized conference.

“I believe our inclusiveness and our diversity … includes all our Eenouch/Eeyouch, whether they call themselves straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or two-spirited.”

The Two-Spirited Community Support Conference was held in Montreal on February 16 and 17.

“Two-spirited” is used by some Indigenous people to describe someone who has both a masculine and a feminine spirit.

Bosum’s message had never before been uttered publicly by a James Bay Cree grand chief, according to conference organizer Mathias (Maloose) Jolly, adding it’s a message young Cree who might be questioning their sexuality desperately need to hear.

“When I was a child I never heard any of my leaders say, ‘It’s OK you are two-spirited,'” said Jolly, 39, who now lives in Montreal.

“This is very important because hearing your own leader accept you is something we want to hear. Never in my life did I ever believe they would even acknowledge my invitation [to the conference]. It’s a big deal for everybody in Eeyou Istchee.”

High suicide rates

A 2012 report by the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) into suicide prevention said that suicide rates among Indigenous two-spirited people in Canada aren’t known, but are higher than among heterosexual Indigenous people.

Suicide rates for First Nations people are at least twice as high as the general Canadian population. The NAHO report also pointed out that two-spirited people were respected leaders in their communities prior to contact with Europeans and colonization.

Bella M. Petawabano, chairperson of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB), was another prominent Cree leader who spoke at the weekend convention.

“We all know that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is still strong in most of our communities,” Petawabano said. “This needs to change.”

Petawabano was recognized by conference organizers as an ally to LGBTQ and two-spirited people in Cree communities.

The Two-Spirited Community Support Conference was held in Montreal February 16 and 17. (Jeremy Neeposh)

Petawabano shared the story of how her household in Mistissini was a safe place for people to go, and how her daughters would bring home two-spirited friends who were struggling.

“There were a few times in the summer when someone [would bring] in a friend saying, ‘We found him or her at the river, wanting to drown themselves.’ That’s how it was,” said Petawabano.

Petawabano hopes to create youth clinics across the Cree territory as safe spaces for the two-spirited community. She also pledged to create a discrimination and bullying-free work environment at the health board.

“[Cree communities] still have a long way to go, but I believe we are moving in the right direction,” she said.

Speak out and stand up

Kathleen Wootton, chairperson of the Cree School Board, wants to build better support systems in schools. (Abel Bosum)

Kathleen Wootton, chairperson of the Cree School Board, attended all the weekend workshops, and said she’ll take back what she learned to build better support systems for two-spirited people in Eeyou Istchee’s schools.

“In our schools and in our education system I hope we can be more open-minded in terms of providing the emotional support our youth need,” Wootton said.

All three leaders expressed a desire for two-spirited people to feel accepted and needed by their nation, and to fully manifest their talents to help build the Cree Nation.

Jolly, the conference organizer, said it’s important for his people to publicly speak out and stand up.

“In the past we used to do [this conference] in a discreet fashion, to avoid bullying from the public,” said Jolly. “For the first time we did it openly, we publicized it.”

Jolly would like to see the gathering grow into a regional meeting to include other First Nations.

These Transgender Children Say They’re Thriving. They Want to Help Others Do the Same.

Chazzie, center, watched Gia and Nicole put on makeup before heading outside to explore New York City. They are involved with the GenderCool Project, which seeks to highlight positive stories about transgender children. Credit Yana Paskova for The New York Times

Chazzie is 11 years old. She has long, wavy hair and large, expressive eyes. She listens to Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande. She really likes playing Monopoly.

Chazzie was also assigned male at birth. But that, she says, isn’t what’s important.

“People just, like, see me as a girl,” she said.

On Sunday, Chazzie and five other transgender children and teenagers from across the country hung out in an elegant prewar apartment on the Upper West Side, ahead of their Tuesday appearance on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today.”

For some, it would be their news media debut. Others have fought for transgender rights in their home states and were well acquainted with the press. But all had the same hope: to shift the conversation about transgender youth from one that dwells on bullying, suicide and murder, to one that focuses on positivity, through an online campaign called the GenderCool Project.

The organization was co-founded by Chazzie’s mother, Jen Grosshandler, who left a decades-long career in public relations and marketing about 18 months ago after working for some of the biggest brands in the world.

Chazzie was born into an “uber masculine” household, Ms. Grosshandler said, with three older brothers. But from the time she was a toddler, she was drawn to toys and games traditionally associated with girls. When Chazzie was around 4 years old, she walked down the staircase with a white Hanes T-shirt wrapped on top of her head.

Chazzie said: “Mom, Dad look at me — isn’t my hair awesome? Isn’t it fabulous? I want long hair,” Ms. Grosshandler recalled.

Years later, Chazzie cried while getting ready for school, and asked: “Mom, what happens if I’m a girl? Because I really believe I am a girl. What will happen to me? Will you love me? Will Dad love me? Will my brothers love me?”

Hear The Inspiring Message One Transgender Girl And Her Parents Want To Share | Megyn Kelly TODAY Video by TODAY

“That was a huge moment for us,” Ms. Grosshandler said. She eventually left her consulting practice to focus on advocacy.

Soon after, she created the GenderCool Project with Gearah Goldstein, a transgender woman who trains people on how to create gender-inclusive environments.

“Our mission is to just get rid of the stigmas and just live our lives,” said Nicole, one of the participants. “And that’s what everybody else is doing. So my question to the world is: ‘Why can’t we? Why should we not?’”

Landon, left, and Chazzie, who wiped away a tear while describing how she hoped that the GenderCool Project would help other children feel less alone. Credit Yana Paskova for The New York Times

Meet the ‘champions’

The project seeks to humanize members of a minority group who are increasingly visible but who find their gender identity at times overshadowing everything else about them.

“I think it’s pretty unique,” said Debi Jackson, a family organizer at the National Center for Transgender Equality. There are a lot of websites that explain how to navigate a child’s transition, she said, but they aren’t focused on celebrating the kid you have.

Being “gender cool” is about being “cool with whomever anyone else is,” Ms. Grosshandler said. She calls the participants champions. And their stories are aspirational rather than full of adversity.

Gia, 14, is one of her school’s top field hockey players and a straight-A student. Nicole, 16, is an actress with perfectly manicured nails who hopes to appear on Broadway one day. Stella, 13, lobbies politicians for protections for trans students. Landon, 15, is an accomplished trumpet player and artist whose latest work explores “how society puts down men and boys for being feminine.” Daniel, 12, is a photographer. (Their last names and hometowns are being withheld to protect their privacy.)

On Sunday, they sat side by side, laughing and chatting as if they had known one another for years, even though their first meeting in person was only a day earlier. Later, a spirited game of Never Have I Ever (“Never have I ever been to Sephora!” “Never have I ever legally changed my name!”) was followed by a snowball fight in Central Park. Together, they were buoyant.

We’re all diamonds. Being trans is just one face, one edge of the diamond,” Landon said. “But there is so much else that makes us diamonds. It’s not just a single sliver.”

From left, Landon, Gia and Nicole ate lunch and played “Never Have I Ever” with the group. Credit Yana Paskova for The New York Times

‘I just want to show other people that they’re not alone’
When Gia first transitioned, she was nervous. She had heard only negative stories about transgender people.

“I was confused, honestly,” she said. “Should I really transition? Like, what’s going to come of this?”

Once she did, her fears subsided. “I haven’t had a single person make fun of me.”

That wasn’t everyone’s experience. Stella was bullied, and Nicole said she hadn’t seen her father in four years because he does not approve of her gender identity.

“But I had a very supportive family, except for him,” Nicole said. “I had a very supportive school.”

She and the other participants said they hoped to make the world a less lonely place.

“When other kids see this, they can be like: ‘Oh my God, I’m like that. I’m like that girl,’” Chazzie said, wiping tears from her eyes. “I just want to show other people that they’re not alone.”

Presenting a different narrative

An estimated 150,000 people ages 13 to 17 in the United States identify as transgender, according to a January 2017 report by the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law, which researches law and public policy on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Nicole paused to fix one of her nails. Credit Yana Paskova for The New York Times

In December, a Williams Institute study of gender nonconforming youths in California found that they were more than twice as likely as their gender conforming peers to have experienced psychological distress. The 2015 National School Climate Survey found that transgender students experienced more hostility than others. And four out of 10 transgender adults report having attempted suicide, according to a 2017 study by Human Rights Campaign and the Trans People of Color Coalition, the majority having done so before age 25.

The outlook for transgender youth often improves, however, when they say they feel supported.

According to the group Trans Student Educational Resources, those with supportive parents were much more likely to have high self-esteem and less likely to suffer from depression.

“I see these kids thriving all the time,” said Stella’s mother, Lisa. “It’s not newsworthy because it’s not tragic or sensationalized.”

It’s important to highlight the difficulties faced by trans people, she said. “But it’s also equally important to show how extraordinary these kids are.”

A campaign aimed at ‘folks in every town’

Ms. Grosshandler and Ms. Goldstein have rolled their campaign out strategically.

They introduced it in February because at this time last year, President Trump rescinded protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

And they appeared on “Megyn Kelly Today” because her program appeals to different groups, Ms. Grosshandler said, including “many people who have never met a young transgender child.”

Ms. Kelly, a former Fox News host, wasn’t necessarily an obvious choice. But “we felt so strongly that we wanted to talk to folks in every town, in every community,” Ms. Grosshandler said.

The GenderCool Project is a call to action, Ms. Goldstein said. “What are you doing for the community? How are you using voices, how are you telling stories, how are you being inclusive?” As a transgender adult, she added, “I wish I had some positive messaging around when I was growing up.”

Expressing Your Gender as Non-Binary At Work

Time to get dressed for work. Do you put on slacks and a sports coat, but paint your nails? Maybe you pick out androgynous clothes that are neither male nor female.

Choosing what to wear is one sensitive issue when expressing non-binary gender. Each day in the workplace poses challenges to your identity. People may look at you different. Try to pigeonhole you. Or ask inappropriate questions. All because your appearance differs from traditional gender stereotypes.

Whether you identify as gender fluid, neutral, agender or non-binary, people at your job may not quite get you. That could present an alphabet of concerns you’ll have to face.

Annoying Assumptions

When you don’t consider yourself either male or female – or if your gender identity varies recurringly – others may draw untrue inferences. That’s one of the ways they cope with their uncertainty.

Some people will assume that you’re also lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual. Some will tell themselves you’re probably just confused or going through a phase. A few will figure you’re looking for attention. One or two may even regard you as mentally unbalanced.

Binary Bathrooms

Is your workplace enlightened? It may well be, yet tensions could mount around restroom use. There are relatively few gender-neutral washrooms in buildings, especially at smaller employers with only two restrooms.

Though that situation is changing, for now you may be forced to choose one or the other. Inquire about company policy on this delicate matter. Consider the feelings and privacy of workmates. Keep in mind that a recent Angus-Reid poll showed that 84 per cent of Canadians supported transgender rights, but only 41 per cent supported those rights when it came to bathroom access.

Confused Colleagues

When a workplace doesn’t take into account possible gender dysmorphia, the term is “cis-normativity.” Everyone’s supposed to abide by the gender identity that matches their sex at birth.

But here you are refusing to be boxed-in. You don’t accept being labelled male or female by others. That can make your boss and co-workers scratch their respective heads. It’s especially confusing if you don’t look distinctively like one or the other.

Older employees in particular may not understand what drives your behaviour. So they act warily. Millennials and city dwellers are more used to diversity. To them you’re mainly a new addition to the gender spectrum.

Expert Expectations

By default, people at work may come to you on matters of gender dysphoria. If you’re the only member of the minority there, it’s almost sure to happen.

Expect that some will approach you with their own gender issues. They may come out to you, ask your advice, or see if you know of local resources. This can become a burden when you’re shy or really busy. Set boundaries that enable you to guard yourself and get your work done first.

From a career viewpoint, you could voluntarily become the office specialist on gender issues. It might make you more valuable and raise your profile (if you’re up for the exposure).

Misgendering Motivations

At times you’ll experience pressure to accept cis-normativity. On employee enrollment and benefits forms that only let you check male or female. When people call you sir, miss, Mr. or Ms. for the millionth time – despite pleading with them not to.

Do you suspect you’re being passed up for promotion due to your non-binariness? Do male or female colleagues avoid you because they’re uncomfortable around you? Those are powerful forces toward blending in.

Other Obstacles

The alphabet of concerns don’t stop there. Here are several more to anticipate:

  • Harassment Hassles. You may get teased, insulted or physically bullied.
  • Quivers of Questions. You’re the object of curiosity. So what are you anyway, a boy or girl? What’s it feel like being you? Can’t you simply select one gender and be happy?
  • Terminology Tussles. You want to be referred to as “they” or xe/xim/xir. Few people do so.

With the exception of getting harassed or discriminated against, keep calm. Most people mean well and want to learn more. Show them that you’re willing to connect in mutually respectful ways. And be cheered by the new powerful protections of Canada’s Bill C-16. It amended the Human Rights Act and Criminal Code.

Now gender identity and expression enjoy the same legal status as race, colour, ethnicity, age and sex!

Paula Simons: David Belke’s child pornography conviction a tale of tragedy

Should dark sexual fantasies be a crime? Do we want to punish people for their private thoughts?

David Belke was never known for tragedy.

For decades, the playwright and director has entertained audiences with his bright and charming comedies. Joyous musicals. Literary send-ups. Romantic romps. They were lighter-than-air confections that rarely pushed audiences out of their comfort zones.

Fringe fans lined up for Belke’s sunny, witty plays. Theatre groups across North America performed them.

But Belke had a dark side, one that we never saw on stage, one he kept carefully hidden from adoring audiences.

Belke was sentenced to six months in jail this past Friday after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. His name has been added to the national list of registered sex offenders.

His career as a family-friendly playwright seems over. So too does his career as a substitute teacher with Edmonton Public Schools.

In our society, there’s hardly a more heinous sin than pedophilia. Every week, we seem to read another story about child sex abuse, whether the alleged perpetrator is a priest, a coach or a Republican politician.

Small wonder we react with visceral horror to the news that an award-winning artist and beloved teacher has been convicted of possessing child porn. We feel bamboozled. Duped.

The cast of one of David Belke’s most popular musical comedies, The Crimson Yak, which was remounted at the 2010 Fringe Festival. Belke’s own tragedy was off stage. J. PROCKTOR / JPROCKTOR.COM

For his students, and for the young performers and writers he’d mentored, it’s a terrible betrayal.

Yet something about Belke’s conviction fills me with disquiet.

None of the images found on his computer showed children being sexually abused or exploited.

Most weren’t sexually explicit at all.

Police found 1,559 problematic images on Belke’s laptop.

Of those, 827 were flagged as potentially illegal, mostly images of naked girls who appeared to be under 18. Some were apparently taken from “naturalist” or “nudist” websites.

Another 732 pictures were deemed worthy of investigation, including images of girls who weren’t unclothed.

But in the end, the police and Crown determined only a dozen of the images were actually pornographic. Of those, none depicted explicit sexual activity, although a number were memes that had captions describing explicit sexual activity. And there’s no suggestion that any of the images were of Belke’s own students.

Belke also had six short stories on his computer which described adults having sex with girls between the ages of 12 and 16. (Though Belke is a writer, the Crown did not allege that he wrote the stories.)

There is no evidence Belke distributed any of the images or writings.

We have every moral reason to be appalled that Belke had these stories on his computer. It’s certainly not material you’d want your child’s teacher to be reading after hours.

David Belke in a 2013 file photo outside the old Varscona Theatre.

But should fantasies be a crime? Do we want to punish people for their private thoughts?

A story, no matter how awful, doesn’t hurt a living child. You could argue such stories are moral and spiritual contagions, that they normalize pedophilia and might even inspire a real-life sexual assault. But does it make sense to criminalize a fictional depiction of an illegal act, however repellent that act may be?

Even the photographic evidence gives me pause.

Belke insisted he never used any of the pictures for sexual gratification or self-pleasure. He only collected the images, he claimed, because he’d never had any kind of sexual relationship himself and was “attracted to the innocence of the young people.”

That’s hard to believe. He’d amassed 1,559 pictures, after all. That’s an awful lot of “innocence.”

Yet shouldn’t we differentiate between someone who likes to look at pictures of naked girls from a nudist site and someone who buys pornography that exploits, abuses and tortures children? There is truly terrible child pornography in this world, pornography that really hurts children and those involved in its production, as buyers or sellers, belong in the seventh circle of hell. But despite Belke’s disturbing obsession, the vast majority of the pictures in his collection weren’t pornographic under Canadian law.

Canadian courts, though, have little latitude. Possession of child pornography comes with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months. The judge has no discretion.

In 2002, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Canada’s child pornography laws, ruling even “imaginary” depictions of children in sexualized situations illegal. The court created a narrow exemption, though, for people to write down private fantasies for their own personal private pleasure.

If Belke had written the stories, if he had taken his case to trial, he might have been able to claim such an exemption, for the stories at least. But I suspect he pleaded guilty to end the public humiliation, to bring down the curtain as quickly as possible on this tragedy, leaving us to wonder how a man so funny, charming and successful in his art could have led a private life of such loneliness, darkness and despair.

Needle Vinyl Tavern sees bookings cancel as it reviews sexual harassment allegations

A file photo of The Needle Tavern in Downtown Edmonton.

A popular Edmonton music venue says it is reviewing allegations of sexual harassment against one of its owners and has removed him from “any active role.”

Downtown’s Needle Vinyl Tavern says it takes the complaints made by a former employee “very seriously” and will take “immediate steps to ensure that The Needle remains a safe environment for lovers of music in the Edmonton region.”

Meanwhile, a Monday-night podcast taping and Tuesday-night workshop changed to other venues because of the allegations.

In a Facebook post which she later confirmed to Global News, Brittany Lyne Rudyck said she left her job in public relations for The Needle because she was groped by one of the owners and because the venue is considering hiring someone with a reputation for emotional abuse and sexual harassment.

“I was sexually harassed by one of the owners in March,” Rudyck said in the post. “He was blackout drunk and groped me several times after I repeatedly said no. It came to the point where I had to ask security to kick him out.

“I informed my manager of this as well as a few other staff members, who were supportive.”

Rudyck said the owner offered a “half-baked” apology the next day and tried to phone her but she did not take his calls. She said she has not heard from him or the other owners about the incident since.

Rudyck said she was also troubled by how the owners reacted to concerns raised by her and other women after they learned of a potential new hire at the venue. She said “a few other women” left previous jobs because of the person, who they say subjected them to emotional abuse and sexual harassment. She said the owners were sent emails by the women detailing their concerns.

Rudyk said she and other managers confronted the owners on Friday to ask if the person was being hired and that the owners did not answer, only saying they respect her opinion.

“No longer will I be supporting this venue in any way, shape or form. I implore you to do the same, whatever that looks like for you,” said Rudyck, who told Global News she plans to speak more about what happened later this week. “Standing up for myself and these other women is the right thing and this seems far from over.”

Global News has reached out to the Needle Vinyl Tavern for comment. In a Monday afternoon Facebook post, the venue said it has “zero tolerance for any behaviour or actions by staff or patrons that impacts the positive environment we have worked so hard to cultivate for Edmontonians.”

The Needle said it would review its policies and training with experts to ensure it maintains a “healthy, respectful environment,” and once it completes a review of the owners, take “all appropriate measures to deal with them.”

Rudyck posted a reply to The Needle’s statement to say it did not amount to “an apology.”

In the wake of the allegations, at least two events planned to take place at The Needle are now occurring elsewhere. The hosts of the podcast Taggart and Torrens (one of who is a former star on TV’s Trailer Park Boys) tweeted they were moving their planned appearance at The Needle Monday night to a venue in Old Strathcona because of the allegations.

“We are heartbroken to hear about the allegations of mistreatment of the staff at The Needle Vinyl Tavern in Edmonton,” their tweet reads. “We cannot in good conscience perform there tonight and will be relocating to @thebuckonwhyte at 10439 Whyte Ave.”

A board member with the Fruit Loop Society of Alberta confirmed to Global News it was moving an event planned at The Needle for Tuesday because of the allegations, adding the organization was “sorry to hear about the allegations and the way they were addressed.” The Fruit Loop Society event was aimed at providing free Nalaxone training (an antidote for fentanyl overdoses) for members of the LGBTQ community and community venues which host LGBTQ-related events.