LGBTQ community offers emotional support for youth after protests over education policies

Counter-protesters march in downtown Halifax on Wednesday in support of LGBTQ rights and education during the 1 Million March 4 Children. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Counter-protesters march in downtown Halifax on Wednesday in support of LGBTQ rights and education during the 1 Million March 4 Children. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Members of Nova Scotia's LGBTQ community are offering support and resources after Wednesday's protests and counter-protests over gender-identity education policies.

A socially conservative group called 1 Million March 4 Children organized the protest in Halifax saying it does not want gender identity issues taught or discussed in schools.

The protest was met by a counter-protest, which drew members of the LGBTQ community and its allies.

Marshall Haywood, who owns Venus Envy on Barrington Street in Halifax, closed his shop for the day to offer counter-protesters a safe, quiet place to decompress if they became overwhelmed.

"It brings up a lot of emotion for people when they see people who would maybe prefer that we didn't exist and that's hard," Haywood told CBC Radio's Information Morning Halifax.

Haywood said he opened the shop because he was worried about what the protest may bring. He said there was a steady stream of people, many of whom were dismayed by what they called a "hateful" and "anti-2SLGBTQ" protest.

'1 Million March 4 Children' protesters and counter-protesters outside city hall in Halifax.
'1 Million March 4 Children' protesters and counter-protesters outside city hall in Halifax.

Protesters against LGBTQ-inclusive policies are shown Wednesday morning. (Robert Short/CBC)

The store also welcomed some older folks in the queer community who spoke of their activism in the 1980s and '90s, he said.

"It's really great to see them out, but to also have them express like, 'Why do we still have to do this?'"

In 2014, the Nova Scotia government released guidelines to help ensure transgender and gender non-conforming students "have equitable access to all aspects of school life."

That followed amendments to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act two years earlier that incorporated the protection of transgender people from discrimination.

Organizations hold support sessions

Organizations around the province are now planning support sessions following the protests as a way for LGBTQ youth to decompress and connect.

South Shore Sexual Health will be holding a debrief and support session for LGBTQ youth on Thursday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Bridgewater.

Julie Veinot, executive director of the centre, said there is a huge population of gender-expansive kids on the South Shore who might need support after the protests.

"Youth are definitely the target here, as well as their human rights," Veinot said.

"And I think as adults it's really important for us to stick up for youth to make sure that they're safe both physically and emotionally, and I think the emotional part has really taken a hit through these protests."

 

Leigh Heide, the vice-chair of the centre's volunteer board, said although there wasn't a protest on the South Shore, LGBTQ youth could have seen the protests online.

They said the support session will provide a safe space for them to ask questions and find community among other queer youth and adults.

"So many of us live so much of our lives online, which is not a bad thing, but it means we're not necessarily having that in-person connection to just relate and say like, 'I'm scared about this thing that's happening, or I'm upset about this thing, or what does this mean for me and my school?'" Heide said.

Heide said they have spoken to a number of people on the South Shore who are feeling anxious, scared and worried about potential changes after the protests on Wednesday.

The Youth Project, a Halifax non-profit that provides support and services to young people, will also be holding a support session on Sunday between 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

"There is a lot going on for young people to process, and they're navigating a lot of big emotions. They're navigating fear, anxiety, frustration," Carmel Farahbakhsh, the organization's executive director, told Information Morning.

"Some are really craving connection with their community. Some might feel motivated to take action in supportive ways to their peers."

They said the event is open to two-spirit, transgender and gender non-conforming youth aged 16 to 25.

"We have seen such a shift in the social environment for young people," Farahbakhsh said.

"Online spaces are becoming increasingly hostile and it feels difficult to say that that hostility is coming from adults, which is very scary for these young people and very confusing for young people who are turning to or think to turn to adults in their life to access support from them."

Farahbakhsh said parents and allies can support two-spirit, transgender and gender non-conforming youth by being a supportive listening ear.

"If you have a young person in your life that's navigating experiencing hate because of their gender identity or self-expression, affirming that they are incredible and brilliant and loved and that their gender identity or various identities make them unique and brilliant and are not deficits, it rather [adds] to their identity," they said.

Farahbakhsh said people can also help by participating in events such as the counter-protest, speaking to government representatives about LGBTQ protections and speaking to teachers about making sure all students feel included and represented.

Those wanting to attend the Youth Project's session on Sunday are asked to register by online or by calling or messaging the Youth Project directly.

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