Ley Fraser

Ley Fraser (They/Them)
PhD Candidate
Department of Sociology and Criminology
University of Manitoba

Current Research Project:

Experiences and Perceptions of Gender Minority Students in Canadian Schools

I am working on my dissertation, analyzing the experiences of gender minority (e.g., transgender, two-spirit) youth in Canadian schools. Gender minority children (for example, transgender or nonbinary children) live in a country which only recently provided protection for them under the Canadian Human Rights Act (Bill C-16, passed in 2017; Cossman and Katri 2017). For these children school is a complex social and educational environment where discussion of gender and sexuality by educators and adults is often discouraged, and students may be forced to act as their own advocate. Gender minority children receive the most harassment out of 2SLGBTQIA+ youth in Canadian schools, and more harassment in general on other identity factors than cisgender students (Taylor and Peter 2011).

In larger movements ostensibly focused on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues, gender minorities are often pushed to the side and their rights lag behind the rest. My research uses the data of both the first and second National School Climate Surveys (led by my advisor, Dr. Tracey Peter, and Dr. Catherine Taylor) to examines the way gender minority students in particular are treated and perceived by their peers. 

What motivated you to pursue this project?

This work is close to my heart as a non-binary person. In recent years, I’ve found that young people are increasingly aware of gender and confident to explore and express their identities. In the case of gender minorities, this means they are often coming out sooner as their true gender, including while they are attending school. This can lead to problems in schools which are not equipped to guide other students in the respectful treatment of gender minorities. In some cases, teachers and other authority figures ignore transphobic behaviour or contribute to it themselves.

Students are left to be their own advocates in many cases, fighting for recognition in a system where understanding of gender and sexuality is hopelessly behind the times (‘institutional lag’). I was motivated to look at this group because gender minorities are often left behind in larger 2SLGBTQIA+ movements and experience more abuse and violence than sexual orientation minorities. It is such a small group that research is difficult, and I am lucky to be in the position of working with Dr. Tracey Peter and using the national School Climate Survey dataset.

What are the most surprising findings in your research?

I am continually surprised by the resilience, creativity and bravery of young gender minority people. These students are making their way in an environment that can lack support for them in the most basic of ways, and among peers who often show shockingly hostile attitudes toward them. I am still amazed at the courage of the students who share their experiences, and the powerful and complex intersections of identity from which they are navigating the world.

Can you describe any interesting or innovative methods you used in your work?

I know sometimes people find quantitative data analysis uninteresting, but there is a lot of interesting analysis that can be done in regional differences because provincial politics can be radically different in reference to gender minority children (e.g., BC vs Alberta). I haven’t completed my analyses yet, but part of my work will be to examine the experiences of gender minority youth by province as well as other factors to see what patterns emerge. Provincial differences are something we don’t have a lot of perspectives on in research about gender minorities, because they are such a small group that the data often doesn’t allow for it.

The National School Climate Survey dataset allows me to potentially use macros like PROCESS in SPSS to look for indirect effects; for example, whether the relationship between two variables changes as a function of a third variable. With cross-sectional data you cannot make causal inferences, but these analyses can still suggest exciting new possibilities that can be used to craft supports for youth. In addition, because there was a previous dataset from the first National School Climate Survey, I will be able to examine differences between the two that might point to changing attitudes in Canada between the two data collection periods. For example, in response to Bill C-16 protecting gender identity under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

What has been the most challenging part of your work?

The hate directed toward gender minority students in their school environments. I think I naively hoped that attitudes would be better than when I was a teenager, but there are still homophobic and transphobic slurs used regularly in schools. As a non-binary person, it is heartbreaking to know young people like me are around people with these attitudes. I hope they are safe.

Additionally, the pandemic has prevented me from doing the work I initially proposed for my doctoral studies. I had hoped to gather experiences of gender minority people at the intersection of other marginalized identities and allow their feedback and perspectives to guide my goals for analysis. The onset of COVID-19 made this not only impractical, but also potentially harmful to the community (as I needed an in-person group environment).

I am lucky to work with renowned 2SLGBTQIA+ researcher Dr. Tracey Peter, who helped me to re-shape my goals with a quantitative focus and craft an analysis of data from the school climate surveys. Post-pandemic, I still hope to pursue the project outlined above.

Where do you see your work having the most impact?

I approach my work with the hope it will have a practical impact for gender minority students and their allies, who can use it to advocate for supports and better treatment of gender minority youth. I plan to directly contact organizations and schools who might make use of it to provide accessible copies, guides on use, and my own assistance in crafting supportive policies to protect these children who are constantly targeted in their social and educational environment. I hope my work will also suggest avenues for future research to support gender minority youth, by drawing on youths’ own comments about what is needed.

Are there any other aspects of your work or interests that you would like to share?

I produce and host a weekly 2SLGBTQIA+ talk and music show (‘Queer Quarks’) at the University of Manitoba radio station (101.5 UMFM/CJUM). I see research and activism as intertwined and equally important for supporting gender minority youth.

I think being directly involved in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in a non-academic way is important. On-the-ground, in-person connections (when safe) are the best way to ensure that I am genuinely representing the interests and needs of the community in my work. This priority is what attracted me to the work of Dr. Tracey Peter, my advisor, who regularly uses her skills in the community.

Finally, I’ve got a strong interest in research methodology. Specifically, I want to advocate for more diverse research methods and an understanding of when and where methodologies are appropriate. I feel passionately that we venerate some methods while neglecting others, and that must change.

What advice do you have for other graduate students?

Connect regularly and often with your peers. In the pandemic it has been essential for my work and health to talk to other students, and I am always looking for ways to reach out to other people who share my research interests. We are going to be the next generation of researchers. We can lift each other up and collaborate, mentor and celebrate now.

I’m an enthusiastic cheerleader of my peers. I host a weekly Sociology and Criminology Student Writing group, and a weekly Graduate Student Social and Professional Development Group (called ‘Good Enough’). Consistently, I find that my fellow students are incredibly accomplished while also being very hard on themselves. I really value any opportunity to find out what other students are working on and share our challenges.

Publications and Achievements

Fraser, L. 2016. Invisible Hours: Social Service Work and Unpaid Labour.  Open Access Library Journal, 3(3), 1-15.

Lero, D. S., Prentice, S., Friendly, M., Richardson, B., & Fraser, L. (Feb 13 2020) Report: Non-Standard Work and Child Care in Canada: A Challenge for Parents, Policy Makers, and Child Care Provision. Childcare Resource and Research Unit and the University of Guelph. Retrieved from: https://www.childcarecanada.org/documents/research-policy-practice/20/02/report-non-standard-work-and-child-care-canada-challenge-pa




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