Sexual health centre gets funding boost to expand gender-affirming programs


BRIDGEWATER - A support program for transgender and gender diverse people that started here is growing thanks to five-figures worth of new funding made available through a partnership involving Kia Communities in Motion and Rural Communities Foundation Of Nova Scotia.

It's more than $20,000 and South Shore Sexual Health (SSSH), based in Bridgewater, gets a fraction of the amount but the Lunenburg County is where a program providing gender-affirming items to others was born. Julie Veinot, SSSH's executive director and sex educator, said the local centre is taking the lead on the expanding the concept, known as the transformation closet, to similar sites and underserved places around Nova Scotia.

"It's not necessarily going to look like a ton of money for our centre but we're pretty excited that our baby is growing up and travelling across the province," she said in a phone interview.

Veinot said the Logan Road centre has been carrying out its own version of the transformation closet on its own, spending about $5,000 a year to keep it supplied for the benefit of youth and adults in Queens and Lunenburg counties.

The program allows for easier access to items, such as packers, gaffs and binders, who face barriers in acquiring gender-affirming gear. The Bridgewater centre has it set up as a "pay as you can" service and accepts donations toward the cost of the item but if payment isn't possible, free is an option.

The Kia grant is only for the year but Veinot hopes an ongoing funding solution is available. She said the grant shows SSSH centre is providing a community service of value.

On occasion, Veinot said, she hears someone crying tears of joy in the washroom where someone is fitting themselves with an item for the first time.

The SSH centre's been fortunate to have the ability to keep its armoire stocked to keep up with demand.

Veinot looks forward to helping other locations build capacity for their specific requirements.

"We're not in need of filling our closet the same as colleagues in other parts of the province," she said.

The Ontario-based public relations firm Strategic Objectives, which issued a news release about the Kia funding, cited 2022 census data showing Nova Scotia "has one of the highest proportions of gender diversity in the country, with almost one-in-200 identifying as transgender or non-binary in the province."

"However, this community faces discrimination and marginalization at high rates in Nova Scotia, creating challenges with mental and physical health, access to safe housing and employment, community safety and social isolation. The transformation closet will help gender diverse people to move forward in the ways they strive to in their own lives."

To learn more about the local SSSH centre, check out http://southshoresexualhealth.com on the internet.

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