More safe spaces, better education, and media representation among top priorities.
Stef Sanjati went to the bathroom at her school a total of two times throughout her high school career. As a trans woman, she simply didn’t feel safe. She’d take other measures: she’d walk home between classes, ask to use the staff washroom, or in extreme measures, just hold it in. “I took a lot of care not to encounter violence, which is unfortunate,” she told Torontoist. “We should be allowed to do everything everyone else does.”
Now 20, Sanjati is a professional YouTuber with more than 300,000 subscribers, and she has documented her transition with the world. Speaking out is her way of offering support to the countless transgender youth in Toronto, like her, who still face discrimination.
Sanjati was just one of four panellists at Pride Toronto’s human rights discussion about the next generation of trans youth on June 14. Though the federal government has recently been playing catch-up with its legislation, tabling a bill in May to include gender identity and expression as grounds for hate crime, and celebrity conversations about the transgender experience have flourished, panellists agreed the community still has a long way to achieve equality—and that’s exactly what millennial trans youth are aiming for.
Hosted by Pride Toronto at The 519, the panel featured a diverse range of experiences—from 31-year-old Danielle Araya’s coming out and connecting with her Chilean roots, to Two-Spirit activist Teddy Syrette’s upbringing as a First Nation gay teen, to Jae Delacruz’s transition as a trans man of colour. The discussion drew more than a hundred spectators, speaking to the larger need for dialogue among trans youth. As Sanjati says, “We need to have more conversations with trans people, not just about them.”
For many outside of LGBTQ communities, it is easy to overlook the everyday violence and discrimination that transgender Torontonians face. That legislation is proposed and passed to help equalize protections throughout the country can often appear to be enough.
But all four panellists spoke of hardships throughout their transition. Delacruz says he feared he would lose friends within the community if he came out as transgender. Syrette’s experience as a First Nation queer person in northern Ontario was marked by fear and isolation. Araya, while thankful she came from an accepting family, attended alternative schools to avoid discrimination. And Sanjati says she dealt with suicidal ideation before coming out.
For each of the panellists, the trans experience is thought of as inherently difficult. “And it shouldn’t be,” Sanjati says. Particularly reflecting on the tragic massacre of 49 people in a gay Orlando nightclub, panellists agreed there is still much work to be done.
According to one Ontario study, transgender people in both Canada and the U.S. face the highest levels of violence, harassment, and discrimination when seeking housing, health care, social services, and employment. Twenty per cent of respondents said they experienced physical or sexual assault because of their identity, while 34 per cent experienced verbal threats.
As a result, there is a call for more safe spaces, greater trans representation in the media, and the cessation of gendered barriers.
“We should be engaging all youth to be trans-inclusive,” Sanjati added. “Not gendering things, like a sport or a job or a bathroom, will go a long way.”
Better education and simply having conversations with trans people about their lived experiences are first steps. Panellists say they hope for a better understanding of their lives, experiences, and struggles. In the future, as Araya summed up, “maybe we won’t need panels like this” to support trans youth.
Torontoist was a proud media sponsor of Pride Toronto’s human rights panel, “Trans Rights in the New Generation.”