The Portage drug rehabilitation centre in Cassidy Lake, New-Brunswick has been adapting its services to the needs of transgender youth since 2016. Discrimination and social exclusion often lead transgender youth to isolate themselves from others and develop drug and/or alcohol use problems. With this is mind, Portage has implemented structural changes aimed at providing a safe, judgment-free environment for transgender youth who are struggling with addiction.

What is transgenderism?

A transgender person is one who identifies with a gender (male or female) that differs from the one they were assigned at birth. Just as it is impossible to modify one’s sexual orientation, it is also impossible to change one’s gender identity.

Heterosexism is an institutionalized system of belief that defends and promotes heterosexuality by identifying it as normative and superior to other sexual orientations and identities. As is so often the case when a person does not fit into societal norms, transgender individuals feel « different » and often face intense discrimination.

Transgenderism and addiction

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, transgender youth who report experiencing discrimination are more likely to use drugs. Gender minority stressors have been linked to excessive alcohol use among transgender men and excessive cannabis use among transgender women.

Systemic exclusion of transgender youth can lead to feelings of shame and social withdrawal and the use of alcohol and drugs to neutralize those feelings. Several studies clearly show that drug use is increasing significantly among transgender people.

Unfortunately, the reasons that lead them to substance abuse in the first place are also the reasons that prevent them from asking for help. Portage Atlantic makes every effort to provide transgender youth with a safe, secure environment in order to help them overcome their addiction.

The mother of a young transgender resident at Portage explains: “The openness of Portage and the support provided was decisive for our child and for us. Until a universal change occurs in our conception of gender, children who identify themselves with a gender other than the one attributed at birth will continue to harbor shame and self-hatred”.

Adapting services to transgender needs

In order to help transgender youth, Portage has adapted many aspects of its services for people aged 14 to 21 in the Atlantic provinces. With the support of social workers, Portage has tailored its assessment tools as well as its care plans to meet the needs of transgender youth. Other changes have focused on maintaining a safe, reassuring environment and rethinking the premises (bedrooms, showers, bathrooms, etc.). And last but not least, Portage has committed to preventing discrimination and supporting youth as they develop their identity while helping them overcome their addiction.

More than 40 counsellors from Portage centres across Canada have been trained to adapt services to transgender people. Portage values like dignity, safety and respect are put into practice every day to make these youth feel welcome.

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