Twenty-five-year-old Jaime says that living in a 2SLGBTQ+ youth home has made a world of difference in his life.
“I can be whatever, do whatever, it’s very freeing. I feel like I can be myself and not be judged,” he said.
Jaime, who requested anonymity, is one of two residents participating in Blue Door’s newly launched INNclusion 2SLGBTQ+ Youth Supportive Housing Program in Newmarket.
Before arriving at the home in May, Jaime, a transgender man, was living “stealth” — living as male without letting anyone know that he was transitioning — at an all-male group home in Oshawa.
Based on comments made by the older resident in the home, he didn’t feel comfortable or safe disclosing to them and didn’t feel like he could be himself, which, he said, was extremely stressful and nerve wracking.
He said that when people find out he’s a transgender man, they can be judgmental even if they don’t intend to be.
Since moving into the Newmarket 2SLGBTQ+ youth home, the New Brunswick native has come out as a transgender man but said he still chooses not to disclose to anyone he doesn’t know well.
“It can be fearful depending on who you interact with. There can be people in the world who are not nice. You never know what you’re going to get when you come out to someone.”
He said he knows other transgender people who “get a lot of disrespect just walking down the road” based on their appearance and that being further along in his own transition has made him feel more comfortable with himself and less fearful that others are judging him.
“Not as many people are thinking ‘Oh, this person is trans’.”
He said that using the right pronoun is extremely important and hearing the wrong pronoun can be extremely hurtful — as it would be for anyone.
“Using the right pronoun, it’s just respect. I wouldn’t go up to a cisgender man and say ‘she’s this, she’s that’, anybody would get pissed off and upset about that. If you went up to a teen and kept calling them she and they were a he and using their dead name (the birth name of a transgender person) that’s just full-on abuse.”
He said that he’s grateful to live in a place where he’s accepted and is surrounded by people who understand him and who have gone through similar experiences.
But what Jaime is most grateful and excited for, he said, is the help he’s receiving with legally changing his name.
The constant worry over his old roommates seeing mail addressed with the wrong name, he said, or having his dead name called out at medical appointments was stressful.
Jaime calls having a name that represents who he is “suicide prevention.”
A study published in 2018 by the journal of adolescent health found that transgender youth who choose a name different than the one given to them at birth “affirms their gender identity and reduces mental health risks known to be high in this group…. predicted fewer depressive symptoms and less suicidal ideation and suicidal behaviour.”
“It would be nice to be legally who I am,” he said.
Blue Door’s INNclusion 2SLGBTQ+ Youth Supportive Housing Program is the first of its kind in York Region and, according to Blue Door CEO Michael Braithwaite, it was created in response to a 2018 Seneca study that investigated the need for the development of an emergency housing service designed expressly to serve LGBTTGNCQ+ youth in York Region.
“Yes there’s youth emergency housing, there’s youth housing, supportive housing but the specific needs of 2SLGBTQ+ where they feel safe and they have the right supports in place was missing,” Braithwaite said.
He said that 2SLGBTQ+ youth in emergency programs are sometimes at risk and those that are transgender youth may out themselves just using a non gender-neutral bathroom.
“So really it’s around safety and security,” he said. “Sometimes you want to be connected to folks that understand and roommates that know what you’re going through or you might have different medical needs.”
The program, which is funded through the Odette Foundation, gives 2SLGBTQ+ youth a safe, judgment-free place to live for up to one year and assists them in achieving their goals.
A peer youth mentor named Francesca comes by two to three times a week to help residents with anything they need whether it’s help finding a job, getting a GED or license, but they also help with 2SLGBTQ+-specific needs like finding resources in the community, putting them in touch with medical or mental health professionals and, of course, help with legally changing a name.
“The safe and supportive environment has made such a huge difference in the life of the two participants,” Francesca said.
They said the two residents are “thriving” and have been able to achieve personal goals in just three months that they weren’t able to achieve before entering INNclusion.
“If you are a Trans young man and you’re not out and you’re in a supportive house but it’s not specific to the 2SLGBTQ+ youth you don’t disclose your situation. You don’t feel safe. If you don’t feel safe you cannot concentrate on future goals or thinking about work. You are always concerned that someone is finding out that you are a Trans man.”
“Living in the house with people who can address your needs and understand you lowers anxiety and panic and leads to an improvement in mental health so other goals can be focused on,” they added,
One of Jaime’s goals is to make furniture. While in the house he took an eight week course with Construct—a paid construction training program developed by Blue Door—and discovered a passion for woodworking that he hopes to one day turn into a furniture-making business.
Jaime said he really likes Newmarket and said it’s “pretty good trans-wise.” He also hopes to eventually move into his own bachelor apartment.
Braithwaite said he knows that there are more than four youth from the community that need the kind of safe housing and support that INNclusion provides. He said that the program will learn from the residents what improvements or changes need to be made before growing the program.
“This is just a start. If we see that the need is greater we’ll look for funding for a second house and a third house.”
Youth who identify as 2SLGBTQ+ aged 16-26 who are facing barriers to housing that require the support and safety that emergency housing may not be able to adequately provide are eligible to apply. These may include, but are not limited to financial hardship, combination of complex issues, employment-related barriers to housing, family breakdown, and a combination of complex issues, including mental illness.
The program promotes independent living and participants must contribute part of their monthly income toward program occupancy. To receive an application form, or find out how to apply for the program yourself, how to refer a youth, or inquire about the program, INNclusion@bluedoor.ca