Capital Pride profile: Kaeden Seburn, co-founder of SAEFTY Ottawa

Youth marshal hopes to “get back to the roots of Pride,” connect with young trans people

Graham Robertson, Editor

Finding spaces run by and for trans people can often be a challenge here in Canada’s capital. Many existing support groups and centres tend to be facilitated by cisgender people who aren’t equipped to provide adequate resources or effectively answer questions pertaining to trans health care, specifically for youth.

To remedy this, a group of trans youth in the community, including nineteen year-old Kaeden Seburn, founded Support and Education for Trans Youth (SAEFTY) last October, Ottawa’s first support group by and for trans youth.

Seburn has a hefty portfolio of LGBTQ advocacy, having been part of their high school’s Rainbow Alliance group and doing work on trans health care with organizations such as Trans Health Information Ottawa. Seburn also facilitates workshops on gender identity and expression and trans inclusion in schools. This experience served as the foundation for SAEFTY, allowing Seburn to understand what was lacking in existing services for trans youth and what needed to be implemented to better meet their needs.

“Trans people are so pathologized and tokenized, and a lot of the time the knowledge and expertise and skills and resilience within the community aren’t always recognized within more mainstream spaces,” says Seburn, noting that prior to SAEFTY, the majority of places that young transgender people could meet were under the direction of a social worker. They express while such groups can be useful, they simply aren’t enough.

Further, “professionals who are supposed to be providing resources or support or information, if they’re not trans themselves often don’t have the information that (trans) people are looking for … so a lot of the time people get that information from within the community.” Seburn highlights that this information sharing between young trans folks and a desire for community sparked the creation of SAEFTY.

Though marketed as a space for trans youth, the team that runs SAEFTY doesn’t necessarily define what “youth” means, and the group sees a range of visitors, from young children to high school graduates. Seburn notes that adults are also welcome at SAEFTY, which allows younger trans people to find hope and see that they can have a safe, successful future.

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A team of trans youth in Ottawa, including Kaeden Seburn, founded SAEFTY in October 2017. Photo: Courtesy of Kaeden Seburn.

Despite just being in its first year, SAEFTY has already built a name for itself within Ottawa’s queer and trans community, and the organization has been selected as this year’s Capital Pride youth marshal.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity, especially to be able to connect with people that we might not otherwise be able to connect with… people that are living with parents or family members or in spaces where they’re not able to be out or are not able to be supported in their home, it can be really hard to get to resources.”

Seburn laments that trans people and people questioning their gender identity who live in these isolating spaces often aren’t able to access information about groups like SAEFTY. However, the visibility of events like Capital Pride has the potential to change that, and can encourage young trans people to more openly seek out support groups and like-minded individuals.

Seburn adds that the group’s selection as youth marshal allows them to discuss Pride in a more meaningful way, especially considering the corporatization of the event over the past several years. “We’re really interested and excited about getting back to the roots of Pride. Pride is political and was created as a protest by trans folks and trans women of colour and that tends to get erased a lot of the time.”

Putting trans people at the centre of the celebrations helps open a more authentic dialogue about the origins of Pride, according to Seburn, moving beyond corporate messaging and flashy rainbow merchandise.

While progress has been made in the city for trans people both young and old, through groups such as Foundations & Pathways and Trans Health Information Ottawa, Seburn believes that there’s more work to be done, especially in the messaging surrounding what it means to be transgender.

“When I was first thinking about my gender identity and coming out as trans, a lot of the messages that I was receiving from outside the community didn’t make sense or feel authentic to me,” says Seburn.

“The way mainstream society thinks about and talks about trans people is really limited and everyone’s experiences are so different and that’s not reflected in mainstream discourses a lot of the time. There are so many expectations about what you need to look like to be trans or what kind of clothes you need to wear or how you need to cut your hair.”

According to Seburn, current discourse on the trans community also continues to perpetuate a gender binary, and places trans people within this binary—either as a trans woman or trans man. This serves to erase non-binary and genderfluid people and exclude them from queer spaces. Through the work done at SAEFTY, Seburn hopes to move past this outdated messaging towards a more inclusive and representative perspective.

Being able to connect with other people in the community and meet other people that have similar experiences is so important and so validating to be able to see representation that feels authentic to you and affirms your identity or your experiences, so that whatever those experiences are, however you identify, however you express that identity, whatever you want to do to transition or not transition, all of those things are super valid.”

As part of the Capital Pride celebrations, SAEFTY will be co-organizing a Family Pride Picnic on Sunday, Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. at the Hintonburg Community Centre, where they will be providing information about their services. An Odawa Two-Spirit, Trans, and Gender Diverse March also takes place on Friday, Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. at McNabb Park.

For more information about SAEFTY’s work, please visit their website. Capital Pride takes place from Sunday, Aug. 19 to Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018. The full schedule is available online.  

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