Exclusive: N.S. mother grateful for community support in gender identity debate
“My daughter’s her own person,” Emilie Siler Smith said with a laugh, as her 7-year-old child, Lola, fidgeted beside her.
At the onset of self-awareness, Lola thinks she’s a boy.
“She’s developing traits and characteristics that are maybe outside of what we expected,” Siler Smith said in an exclusive interview with Global News. “But, we love her and support her as a family and we just want to do what’s best for her.”
She admits she sometimes feels like she’s losing her little girl, but Emilie and her husband are determined to allow Lola to develop into the person she is meant to be.
And, increasingly, that person is full of surprises.
Lola’s choices in toys, clothing, and hairstyles are consistent with tomboy behaviour.
But, after three years of wondering if it was “just a phase,” they are convinced it’s not.
“A tomboy probably wouldn’t ask Santa Claus for male genitalia. So, those kind of things are what led us to believe there’s more to the situation than simply being a tomboy,” Siler Smith says.
They have encountered obstacles.
Notably, when they tried to sign up Lola for the upcoming soccer season, near their home community of Newport, NS.
Lola wants to play on a boy’s team, despite rules which divide teams by gender.
“The form has an area where you identify the gender, and we asked if we could identify as male. Because gender and sex are two different things. We were told no during registration,” she said.
Undeterred, the Smith’s launched an online petition drive.
After quickly enlisting hundreds of supporters, the Smith’s were informed by Soccer Nova Scotia Lola could indeed play with the boys.
“I think it speaks greatly about the sign of the times because I have to say that my feeling was one of entitlement. I felt my child was entitled to identify how my child wanted to identify and I didn’t feel an organization could take that away from us,” Lola’s mom said.
The family has had support and advice from Halifax-based Rainbow Action Project — which pursues equality for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
“This family did the right thing, which is to leave as many choices open to the child as they possibly can,” said Halifax lawyer Kevin Kindred, who leads the Rainbow Action Project.
“Adult transgender people that I talk to — who have transitioned when they are 40, 50, 60 — tell me that they started identifying their gender identity when they were four, five, six. So, it’s not uncommon at all that kids have questions around gender identity this young,” he said.
For now. Lola still uses the girls bathroom at school, and her parents said she has not been bullied.
“Her peers have been phenomenal. If the world was made up of 7-year-olds, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” Siler Smith said.
She added, she and her husband are not precluding any possibilities for the direction of Lola’s identity.
“If this continues, ’cause I believe this is fluid, I don’t think it will stay the same. It may change, it may progress. It may decrease. I don’t know the answers of what the future brings for us. I just know that whatever it brings for us, it brings acceptance. And I hope that it brings acceptance for others as well.”
She says some of their confidence stems from a recent change to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. The province joined Ontario, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories in spelling out protection for transgender people against discrimination.
“If negative things come of this, we’ll deal with that. But, i’m just hoping that speaking out about this will help people understand that we’re just a real family,” she said, “And, this is just a real kid and we just want to do what’s best for our child that we love.”