Izzy Stoodley is a 25-year-old transgender woman who volunteers for the Skipping Stone Foundation, and says she was overwhelmed by community support on International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31.

“People coming in with their families and their little kids, telling them it’s okay to be who they are just warms my heart.”

The Skipping Stone Foundation, founded in 2016, is a relatively new organization in Calgary dedicated to providing transgender youth with resources they need to create opportunities and to grow within a safe space in society.

Family and friends gathered downtown in the foundation’s headquarters, which used to be an old church. Laughing, smiling and listening to music, dozens of people gather to share stories and celebrate the transgender community.

A volunteer’s perspective

Stoodley says volunteering is her way of paying it forward to the community that helped her during her transition.

One thing that Skipping Stone focuses on is having conversations with parents, peers and friends, helping them understand what being transgender means.

“Going through puberty in trans is a little bit tricky and confusing,” Stoodley says. “If you think going through puberty was confusing for you, it probably was….The trans thing just adds a dimension to it.”

Stoodley says that elders and youth are often two of the groups that get caught up in the crossfire and are often overlooked adding  that they should get more attention because they are known to be vulnerable.

“It hasn’t been easy for them. I’ve seen some of their faces when they walk into the door today, and it breaks my heart how happy they are just to say ‘hi’ and chat.”

A founder’s perspective

Amelia Newbert, one of the founders of Skipping Stone, says she often hears from clients that they feel alone and don’t have places in the larger community.

Newbert says that, unfortunately far too often, meetups have taken place under negative or sad circumstances.

“It seems that whenever trans folks get together it seems to be for negative things, like transgender remembrance.”

Hosting a more celebratory event, as opposed to recalling the tragic losses of life due to intolerance, is important to transgender youth, Newbert says, as they can meet  people who are similar to them and who have had the same lived experiences where their gender identity and expression are celebrated.

“It can be a life changer for a lot of youths. It can be the difference between being withdrawn and isolated and sort of having their world closed in and turning the tables on that and have their world open up and explode with possibilities.”

A psychologist’s perspective

Psychologist Ashleigh Yule, also a member of the foundation, specializes in child and adolescent mental health with a focus on transgender health. She works with youth who are questioning or exploring gender.  For Yule, sometimes the system can be hard to navigate.

Ashleigh Yule, a psychologist and member of the Skipping Stone Foundation, promotes Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31st, in downtown Calgary. Photo by Olivia Baychu.

“Many of the youth I work with aren’t in a place where they can be out and visible safely.”

She explained  her clients face a number of risk factors, such as rejection of family, mental health problems, weakened academic performance and more.

She says that these risk factors don’t happen because youth are trans-identified, but because the world isn’t set up for people who are transgender.

A mother’s perspective

Lindsay Peace is co-founder of the Skipping Stone. Peace is mother to three sons, one of which is transgender. Peace recalls that when her son told her that he was transgender she remembers trying to figure out what that meant. They became aware of the obstacles and barriers that came with it.

There are many difficulties with transitioning with transgender people. With youth that can be quite difficult. She remembers trying to figure out how to change his name, and his birth certificate and where to go and how to do all these things.

Though the government of Alberta came out with guidelines for best practices for LGBTQ youth, there are many obstacles that trans youth still face such as bullying and isolation.

“It’s important that organizations such as these exist to help youth through these tough times,” Stoodely says.

“Every single bit counts.”

obaychu@cjournal.ca

Editor: Omar Subhi Omar | oomar@cjournal.ca