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How to be a good ally to transgender and 2SLGBTQ+ youth in care: A conversation with Christine

“Our kids fall through the cracks because of their identities and life stories.” -Christine Henschel.

On a hot Friday at the Boyle Street Community Centre, Christine and I found a quiet room to sit and talk about her work with 2SLGBTQ+ youth. The week before, I’d asked our staff 2SLGBTQ+ lunch group which of Boyle Street’s programs or services we might like to highlight during Pride Month. Instead, they suggested I speak with Christine.

At a time when many organizations are still working to build programs that are specific to and empower 2SLGBTQ+ people, individuals like Christine lead groundbreaking changes in our sector. Boyle Street is committed to creating more safe and accessible services for the 2SLGBTQ+ community. In the meantime, we’d like to celebrate and learn from Christine’s advocacy for 2SLGBTQ+ youth.

Christine is a High-Risk Youth and Family Wellness Specialist with Allies for Youth, a Collaborative Service Delivery (CSD) program run by Boyle Street and Child and Family Services. Christine’s background is in child and youth care, and she has over a decade of experience in the field.

“Things were different back then. When I graduated in 1997, not a lot was taught about the 2SLGBTQ+ community, explained Christine, “Or trauma-informed care, which I think I always did, but didn’t have a word for. You can’t do the job without it.”

A young woman dances outside the Boyle Street Community Centre for National Indigenous Peoples Day. Providing opportunities for Indigenous youth to connect with their culture is an important part of identity and healing.

Christine’s work with 2SLGBTQ+ youth began after taking a break to raise her kids:

“When I was trying to get back into the field, I watched a documentary about transgender people. Then, when I came into this role, I happened to have two transgender youth on my file. We really connected, and they’re still on my file, and I found that it’s a passion of mine, to be an advocate and an ally.”

Boyle Street supported Christine to attend the Canadian Professional for Transgender Health conference twice. Training and connecting with professionals in the 2SLGBTQ+ community helps Christine to stay on top of legal and medical policies and use her knowledge to advocate for our youth.

“The approach I take with 2SLGBTQ+ youth is different because they face additional barriers within hospitals, courts and other systems,” said Christine. “I don’t have a fear of standing up in a courtroom and saying, “No, I’m sorry. He identifies as male and his name is ___.” I’ve done that many times. A lot of my youth won’t go without me to those places because they know I’ll stand up for them.”

Christine poses next to a “Love is Love” sign hand painted by a community member in the courtyard at the Boyle Street Community Centre.