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Cyndi Sweeney, chapter leader of PFLAG Halifax, with her 12-year-old son, Dillon. (Lyndsay Doyle Photography)

Local activists encourage education year-round

It was a year and a half ago when Cyndi Sweeney noticed her youngest child’s marks at school were suffering and they were becoming more isolated, distancing themselves from friends. Then one day, Sweeney says her child told her he’s a boy and that he’s in the wrong body.

“It was like a bomb was dropped on us, but we didn’t know how big the crater would be for weeks,” Sweeney says. “We didn’t know what it meant; we had no experience with it.”

This past week was Transgender Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance is today (Tuesday, Nov. 20), which honours those murdered because of transphobic violence. Since Dillon came out as transgender, Sweeney has worked to support him and other transgender children and their families.

She created a blog (simplygoodform.com), where she shares her family’s story, helps other families and shares other positive stories about transgender and gender-diverse people to counter transphobic information online.

“There’s so much misinformation online that I wanted to draw that out and I wanted to share valid studies, valid research with the hopes that, one day, when people will search what it means to be transgender, the good links will come up,” Sweeney says.

She’s also the chapter leader of PFLAG Halifax, a local LGBTQ support, resource and education network that hosts support meetings the first Monday of every month. There is a PFLAG chapter in Truro.

Jay Aaron Roy says he celebrates transgender awareness every week at his store, Cape and Cowl Comics and Collectibles in Lower Sackville. But the shop is more than a comic store. Roy created a drop-in centre here for youth where they can get counselling and connect with others. It’s a year-round safe space for LGBTQ youth.

Roy says the drop-in centre is the “beating heart of my store.” Roy is an expert and fan of comics, but says the store also serves as a fun and welcoming place for youth who are transgender. He says they’re more comfortable there rather than at clinics and don’t have to face the stigma from others.

“No one is going to question why a youth is going into a comic book store,” Roy says. “It’s another way to support youth who may not be supported at home.”

Roy came out as transgender at the age of 27. He says his mother was always supportive of him, including in high school when he was being bullied. Only after he came out did Roy learn his mother started an art business in their community to keep an eye on the bullying behaviour. That art business was a safe place for Roy years before he’d create his own.

Roy says he often turned to the internet, particularly YouTube, to hear stories of other transgender youth. Today, he creates his own videos for YouTube that reach youth beyond the store.

“If there is anything I want to teach cis people is it’s just to listen,” Roy says. “It’s OK to sit in a space and recognize you don’t know something and to listen and learn.”

Sweeney says she wants those families whose children identify as transgender to know they’re not alone. Early in Dillon’s transition, Sweeney turned to his teacher, who suggested she talk with the guidance counsellor at his school, who knew about transgender issues. She was encouraged to contact the IWK Health Centre for support. The children’s hospital has a transgender health team, including a social worker and psychiatrist, that Sweeney says sees about 85 new families each year. Sweeney says they were on the wait-list at the IWK Health Centre and eventually worked with a registered counselling therapist with expertise in transgender youth.

“The supports are there if they can reach out and just to continue to love their child and follow their lead,” she says. “The child will lead you were they want to go. And it gets easier.”

These days, Sweeney says Dillon’s life is better every day and she’s continually inspired by his bravery and how he stands up for himself.

“He’s happier, his marks are soaring and he’s going to be able to live a really great life because we’re going to support him,” says Sweeney.

For more information, visit iwk.nshealth.ca/mental-health/youth/facing-sexuality.

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