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Violent acts on the rise

N.S. activists say Transgender Day of Remembrance important

NICOLE MUNRO @Nicole__munro

The number of violent incidents stemming from homophobia and transphobia is on the rise in Nova Scotia, according to 2SLGBTQIA+ activists and government officials.

Veronica Merryfield, founder of the Cape Breton Transgender Network, said she has received five requests for help from parents whose children have been subject to hate and/or violent acts at schools in Cape Breton.

Merryfield said one of the children is still off from school due to head injuries they sustained two weeks earlier.

Merryfield paused after taking time to acknowledge Monday marked Transgender Day of Remembrance – a day dedicated to remembering people who have been killed for being transgender or queer.

“In the near 30 years since I transitioned, I have lost so many friends,” said Merryfield, tearing up.

“And this year’s no different.”

Lisa Lachance, NDP MLA for Halifax Citadel-sable Island, said they have been receiving an increase in emails and calls from families who are concerned about their child’s safety and well-being in school.

Lachance noted Nova Scotia isn’t seeing the same policy changes as New Brunswick, where Policy 713 was recently introduced, requiring children under 16 to have parental consent before they can officially change their preferred first names or pronouns at school.

Susan Leblanc, NDP MLA for Dartmouth North, said the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative party said it is not considering similar policies to Policy 713.

But Lachance said that doesn’t mean Nova Scotia isn’t seeing homophobic or transphobic behaviour.

“We’re seeing it in the lived experience of young people and their families really facing increased amounts of discrimination, hatred and violence,” Lachance said.

According to census data released in April 2022, Nova Scotia’s proportion of transgender and non-binary people is higher than any other province or territory across Canada.

In Nova Scotia, 3,940 people responded to the national household survey that they are transgender or nonbinary.

Lachance said they’re concerned that some parents feel schools aren’t addressing the situation to their satisfaction.

“We know we have a problem with violence in schools

and we have this specific kind of violence, so that needs to be addressed,” Lachance said.

Lachance said the NDP would like to see support workers for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in schools, not only for mental health support but also to connect students with the community and culture.

Lachance said teachers can also help by including diverse speakers as guests and including 2SLGBTQIA+ topics within the curriculum and resources to ensure diverse families are represented.

Merryfield encouraged conversation surrounding gender identity to be introduced earlier in schools.

“If that representation visibility doesn’t occur at primary schools or when the child is that old, they’ll think there’s something desperately wrong with them and they’re on their own,” Merryfield said.

“They need to know that they’re not and they need that support and it needs to be in elementary schools. It’s not good enough that it comes later.”

Dr. Erica Baker, a clinical psychologist in Halifax, said she has seen the impact that gender identity can have on people’s mental health.

“Trans individuals often encounter discrimination and lack of acceptance that can have significant effects on mental health and wellbeing,” Baker said.

Baker said diversity should be embraced and “we should recognize the strength and resilience of transgender individuals.”

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