Ottawa woman who was once homeless believed to be first trans school trustee

Lyra Evans poses for a photograph in Ottawa on Tuesday October 23, 2018. Evans will become the Zone 9 Ottawa-Carleton school trustee after garnering 55 per cent of the votes cast Monday in her district as part of Ontario's municipal elections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A woman who was once homeless in Ottawa is believed to be the first openly transgender school trustee to be elected in Ontario and possibly in Canada.

Lyra Evans, 26, will become the school trustee for a downtown Ottawa district after garnering 55 per cent of the votes cast Monday as part of Ontario’s municipal elections.

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Evans says she felt compelled to join the race after the Doug Ford government in Ontario announced it would revert the province’s sex-education curriculum to the 1998 version.

“I was outraged, I was disappointed they were going to be doing this to students who, I think, should be learning the things the 2015 curriculum teaches,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

“So I got engaged because I wanted to be a voice for people who didn’t feel like their voices were being heard.”

But the journey to her election victory has been far from easy.

Evans became homeless while still in high school and struggled for several years – couch surfing or living in the streets.

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Transitional housing, volunteering and advocacy work helped to lift Evans onto another path, even as she faced discrimination by coming out first as gay and later as transgender. A lack of education, understanding and nuanced language regarding LGBTQ issues in the school system and the community at the time contributed to this, she says.

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That’s why she wants to see schools continue with the sex-ed curriculum developed in Ontario in 2015, which included more inclusive education about gender identity and relationships, consent as well as warnings about online bullying and sexting.

“There was so much that I wasn’t taught and that’s one of the reasons I’m a huge advocate for LGBTQ issues being taught in schools and diverse families being taught in schools – to give people the language, to give people the capacity to be who they are without having to go through this giant discovery phase, without having to learn all the words themselves.”

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Many voters on the doorstep expressed deep concern and anger over the Ford government’s decision to scrap the 2015 sex-ed curriculum and revert to the 1998 lesson plan, Evans said.

It’s a big reason she believes she was successfully elected as a school trustee.

She hopes her lived experiences will help to offer a more progressive approach to policies regarding sexual and LGBTQ rights education in the Ottawa school system.

“I hope this shows we are heading in a progressive direction and that we’re heading in a direction of acceptance and understanding and that, as a society, we’re coming to understand that even if people if people are not exactly like you, they are still fundamentally people and deserving of rights.”


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