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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.”