The UnACoRN study team wants to better understand the range of settings where youth have their sexual and gender identities supported or threatened to help leaders create safe spaces for youth.

New study hopes to inform better policies by understanding how young Canadians learn about issues around gender & sexuality

June 28, 2022

The Understanding Affirming Communities, Relationships, & Networks (UnACoRN) Study is aiming to work with school administrators, lawmakers, community organizations, healthcare providers, and others to make sure more youth feel safe and affirmed regardless of their gender and sexual identities. The recently launched study is being carried out by the REAFFIRM Collaborative, led by principal investigator and Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) assistant professor Travis Salway and his research team, in collaboration with the Centre for Gender & Sexual Health Equity, the BC Centre for Disease Control, and Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (2S/LGBTQ) research and community partners.

“Our aim is to demonstrate multiple kinds of supports that bolster the health and happiness of young 2S/LGBTQ people,” Salway explains. “Survey participants are invited to share different aspects of their sexuality, their gender identity and their gender expression as well as experiences accessing gender-affirming care, so that we can capture the complexity of experiences with regard to gender and sexuality.”

The study plans to capture many areas where youth interact, including team sports. FHS MSc student Martha Gumprich (they/them) is a research team member examining the participation and inclusion of non-binary people in team-sports, collecting data within the UnACoRN study.

“Trans and gender diverse people are unjustly under attack by governments in the States, with the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill passing in Florida on March 28, for example,” they explain. “The time for this research is now, and it has never been more critical to ensure safe environments for gender diverse youth and help improve their mental health.”

FHS BSc honours alumnus Amrit Tiwana, another member of the REAFFIRM team, has worked to gain a better understanding about individual experiences with sexual orientation or gender identity or expression change efforts (SOGIECE), otherwise known as so-called 'conversion therapy'. She speaks on the importance of continuing to identify 'conversion therapy' practices in the wake of the federal ban—another aim of the UnACoRN study.

"Even though conversion therapy has been banned in Canada, there have to be continued efforts to monitor how and where conversion therapy practitioners continue to operate,” she explains. “Monitoring will keep legislators accountable and identify where supportive 2S/LGBTQ+ affirming environments are most needed."

Kinnon MacKinnon, assistant professor at York University’s School of Social Work, Principal Investigator of Étude Re/DeTrans Canada Study, and collaborator with the study, is helping to better understand experiences of trans people who have detransitioned or retransitioned—following a non-linear trajectory in their gender transition(s).

“It’s important to understand sources of gender identity/expression support for people who do not currently identify as cisgender, including people who are trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, gender expansive, or gender non-conforming young people,” MacKinnon explains. “We are also interested in understanding people who identified as trans men or trans women in the past, but who shifted to a different sex/gender identity. Some young people begin a gender transition but stop—or reverse the process—because of lack of support or because they realize they are not trans. Some of these individuals may feel more cisgender or have re-identified with their birth sex.”

The UnACoRN study survey is open until August 15 to 15-29 year olds living in Canada or the U.S., and is available in English or French. The survey takes about 30 minutes to complete, and you’ll have the chance to enter a draw to win one of 15 $100 gift card prizes or a giant stuffed toy unicorn. To participate and learn more, click here. To connect with the REAFFIRM Collaborative on social media, you can follow them on Instagram (@reaffirmcollaborative) or Facebook.