For as long as he could remember, Aaron knew he was a boy. He was born and raised a girl, and he endured violence and cruelty for being transgender. A Google search taught him that there was a larger world where he could find safety, love and acceptance, so he clung to the hope he might one day escape.
For Aaron, life was intolerable. He was tormented by bullies. Young men his age would yell at him, drive their cars toward him to run his bike off the road, or pick fights with him.
“I knew I had an issue, so I looked online to see whether how I felt was normal. I never told anyone,” Aaron recalls. Internet searches taught him he was transgender and an understanding psychiatrist gave him hope that he was not alone. But he was physically attacked every couple of months.
Aaron was born in the Bahamas, where so many Canadian tourists flock. But in this tropical paradise, few people understand what it is to be transgender.
Even for trans kids raised in Canada, bullying, violence, family rejection and social stigma are common. Parental support is one of the most important ways to help trans youth succeed, but many kids arrive at our doors having been kicked out by their families. According to a recent study, an estimated 46 percent of trans Ontarians either seriously considered or attempted suicide in the previous year, but this figure was an improvement over past years because of positive changes in social attitudes.
Aaron was only four when his mom passed away. With no other family, he was sent to an orphanage. As a child, he spent his days playing in the street with the boys from the home.
“From a young age, I was running outside with the guys, playing football with my shirt off. I never grew up wearing girls’ clothes,” he says. It mostly went unnoticed in the busy group home that he never chose to wear a dress. Girls’ clothing felt unnatural to him, so he could not bear the thought of living in it. But by 14, staff labeled him “uncontrollable” for refusing feminine clothes and sent him to juvenile detention.
Aaron was released a few months later, but decided to spend as much of his time as possible in school away from the group home. “School wasn’t a safe place either, but I made it through. I did well in school. I didn’t want to drop out, because it felt like education was the only way out.”
One day, two men beat him up. “I thought something needs to happen.” A friend on Facebook found a better life by moving to Toronto and she urged him to join her.
Aaron managed to get a plane ticket to Toronto, but he arrived here with nothing and no place to stay. “I didn’t feel good about being homeless, but I knew it was still better than being at home, so I just accepted it.”
When he came to Covenant House, he found that staff were welcoming and compassionate—a profound and transformative contrast from what he had been experiencing. We assured him that we would help him get settled and set out on a new path. He had big dreams and we knew we just had to help clear the way for him.
It has only been a few months since Aaron arrived, but he has already landed an apartment with help from our housing team. We continue to check in with him through our YIT (Youth in Transition) program, supporting youth living in the community who could still use some assistnace, and he appreciates the continued connection to Covenant House.
At 23, with his calm, gentle spirit and resolute determination, he is a leader and a voice for change. He is a trans youth advocate with the Provincial Advocate’s Office and he volunteers to meet with donors at our events.
Aaron has a new job in specialized lending at a major bank, his chosen field. He is waiting to hear about his application to University of Toronto with plans to study economics and finance.
Aaron’s goal is to be a Chief Financial Officer some day and give generously to those in need. “I got a lot of help in this country. I want to be able to give back,” he says. “The only way things get better is by helping one another.”