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  • Eva Kurilova

Meet Skipping Stone, the trans youth organization hosting sex work peer groups

Updated: May 20

by Eva Kurilova


On February 8th of this year, Calgary-based youth charity Skipping Stone held its first Trans Sex Work Peer Group. The meeting was announced with a graphic featuring two quite young-looking people. How did a registered charity that started as a youth scholarship foundation come to partner with an adult “sex worker” support group?


Skipping Stone describes itself as a “judgement-free space for anyone who identifies as trans, transgender, non-binary, or gender diverse, as well as those questioning, exploring or looking to affirming their gender identity or expression.” According to the organization’s Twitter profile, it also aims to connect trans-identified people in Calgary with “comprehensive, low barrier access to the support they need & deserve.”


Skipping Stone was originally set up as a scholarship foundation in 2016. It provides a $2,500 scholarship to Grade 12 students in Calgary who are members or allies of the “transgender and gender diverse communities.”


It still largely targets minors in its activism and advocacy work as well. In fact, it is at the core of what the organization does. Skippingstone.ca greets visitors with a picture of a child and proudly proclaims that the organization works with “kiddos as young as 6 or 7.”

In its For Parents & Caregivers section, the website recommends books and videos about affirming the identities of gender-confused kids and teenagers. One such title is The Gender Creative Child: Pathways for Nurturing and Supporting Children Who Live Outside Gender Boxes by controversial therapist Diane Ehrensaft. Ehrensaft believes that pre-verbal children can send “gender messages” by refusing to wear hair barrettes or skirts.


The website offers several more “resources,” including a guide on how to self-inject testosterone (to give a female a more masculine appearance). It also provides information on gender-affirming gear like binders (for compressing the female chest), breast forms (for giving males the appearance of breasts), gaffs (for compressing the male genitals), and packers (for giving females a bulge in the pants). None of this information is presented in a way that is solely aimed at adults.


Who is behind an organization that provides this kind of information to children? Well, Skipping Stone was founded by two passionate “transgender rights” activists, Amelia Newbert and Lindsay Peace.


Lindsay Peace made headlines in 2015 for getting a tattoo of her daughter changed into a boy when her daughter began identifying as a boy. The pink dress was swapped for a blue shirt, and the pigtails were given a short haircut. According to the Calgary Herald:


Since writing about the modified tattoo on Facebook, Peace has garnered international attention. Media outlets in the United Kingdom and United States picked up her family’s story, framing it as an inspiring tale of familial support.


Lindsay Peace (https://globalnews.ca/news/4452539/alberta-transgender-clinic-calgary)


A blog post for local electricity and natural gas company Spot Power offers some insight into how Skipping Stone began (Skipping Stone is Spot Power’s official “marketing associate,” and a portion of what customers pay for electricity each month goes to the charity). In this post, Peace discussed how she was inspired to start Skipping Stone because she wanted to make the medical “transition” process easier for youth:


She saw personally how difficult it was to navigate the system and help her son find the gender-affirming care he needed. Because of this, Peace wanted to find a way to support other families of transgender youth.


Peace is the current Executive Director of Skipping Stone, a position listed on her LinkedIn profile as full-time and permanent.


Co-founder Amelia Newbert also made local headlines in 2016 as Calgary's first trans-identified city council candidate. He is listed as the Skipping Stone Creative Director. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is also heavily involved in the Calgary arts community and worked at Theatre Calgary for 12 years (with 10 of those years as the Production and Operations Manager). He currently works at two Calgary puppetry organizations: the Old Trout Puppet Workshop and the International Festival of Animated Objects.


This puppet master likes to pull the strings in the local LGBT community as well. He has served as Director of Community Development with Calgary Pride, chair of Fierte Canada Pride's national Stand4Trans initiative, and president of the Trans Equality Society of Alberta.


Echoing Peace, Newbert believes that medical youth “transition” should be an easier and more accessible process. According to the Spot Power blog post,


Newbert joined up with Peace to form the foundation as she saw first hand the struggles of transitioning in Alberta and wanted to make it easier for the next generation to transition.


Amelia Newbert (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/transgender-calgary-city-hall-day-of-remembrance-amelia-newbert-1.5366981)


Like other trans organizations, Skipping Stone takes an “affirmative” approach to childhood “transition.” This means that you shouldn’t ask why a child might feel discomfort with their body and claim a trans identity. Instead, you need to validate them, use their new names and pronouns, and help them access medical interventions.


“Transition,” according to a handy “Trans Inclusivity 101” poster created by Skipping Stone, is “anything a person does to more closely align how they express their gender externally with how they identify internally.” None of it should be questioned; all of it should be affirmed.


A Calgary Guardian Charitable Choices profile on Skipping Stone describes that, initially, the organization acted as a “systems and services navigator.” In 2017, it became a “direct service provider” and began offering an array of transition-related services. Some of these services include community coaching, a peer mentor program, and an Expressions Program for teaching about hair, makeup, and hygiene. Skipping Stone also offers access to the various types of “gender-affirming gear” described above.


In 2018, Skipping Stone launched a community-driven care model and positioned itself as a first point of contact for people seeking out “gender-affirming health care” like hormone therapy and surgeries. After filling out an intake form, you can meet with a Community Team member who will direct you to “affirming family physicians” or teach you how to inject hormones.


Johnathan Kuipers, then the Director of Mental Health and now the Director of Stakeholder Relations at Skipping Stone, was also interviewed for the Spot Power blog post, where he explained how the organization coaches parents to believe that affirmation and hormone treatment is the only way to help a child who expresses discomfort with their sex:


To see that shift in people once you provide them with a little bit of education is amazing. To see a parent become affirming, seeing their kid growing up and on hormones and feeling affirmed. To then later see the same parents become mentors for other parents of kids who are transgendered. It’s the perfect success.


A social worker, Kuipers made no mention of the fact that cross-sex hormones leave children with irreversible and potentially very harmful physical changes. In a press release from February 25, 2022, the French National Academy of Medicine urged caution on the use of hormonal blockers and cross-sex hormones in children, noting that side effects include:


impact on growth, bone fragility, risk of sterility, emotional and intellectual consequences and, for girls, symptoms reminiscent of menopause.


So much for “perfect success.”


Despite its leaders’ enthusiasm for medically “transitioning” children, Skipping Stone paused intake in 2019. In late December of that year, Newbert and Peace announced that sources of government funding were drying up, stating that almost 50% of the organization’s budget came from government programs and that, without it, they would be unable to accept new clients.


Upon catching wind of the story, local activist Mike Morrison started a GoFundMe campaign and spread the word via the hashtag #SaveSkippingStone. The fundraiser pulled in more than $10,000 in donations in just the first day. Morrison is a blogger-turned-entrepreneur who started SocialWest—the largest digital marketing conference in Western Canada—in 2016, and who uses his platform to highlight “LGBTQ+” causes.


A popular Calgary pub, The Ship and Anchor, joined in on the effort and made Skipping Stone one of the recipients of its annual eggnog fundraising initiative. By the middle of the month, Global News reported that Skipping Stone had raised more than $120,000 from “strangers, supporters and philanthropic foundations.” In the same story, Peace expressed frustration that Alberta Health would not commit to funding.


On December 19, The Oak Tree Tavern held a concert and a silent auction to raise money for Skipping Stone, giving the organization 100% of the ticket proceeds, which amounted to more than $5,000. On January 11, Calgary activist Blake McLeod also organized a “Get Together & Give a Shit” fundraiser concert at Pin-Bar, which raised another $3,000.

According to Skipping Stone’s CRA records, the organization’s provincial funding did decrease from 2019 to 2020.


In 2019, it received $75,000 from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (Community Initiatives Program Operating grant), $50,000 from the Ministry of Community and Social Services (Family and Community Safety Program grant), and $47,500 from the Ministry of Status of Women (Gender Equality & Advancement Grant), for a total of $172,500. In 2020, Skipping Stone received a comparatively smaller amount of $75,000 from the Ministry of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women (Community Initiatives Program Operating grant).


Skipping Stone also received $8,100 from the federal government and $40,000 from municipal governments in 2020, bringing the government funding total to $123,100. Regardless, due to the increase in private donations, the organization’s total revenue nearly doubled from $360,523 in 2019 to $615,966 in 2020.

2019 revenue (left) and 2020 revenue (right)


The influx of private donations saved the charity and, by late 2020, Skipping Stone reported over 1,000 clients. That same year, it began amending its mandate to include adults and to serve people from all over Alberta.


Today, Skipping Stone offers many regular zoom group meetings catering to adults, though most meetings are for ages 16 and up, which means that minors are included as well. One such group is the Top Surgery Support Group. In Alberta, “top surgery” (a double mastectomy to create a more male-looking chest) is covered by the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan. Throughout Canada, the procedure can be performed on teen girls under the age of 18 with parental permission.


In 2019, Alberta Health added the requirement of a psychiatric referral for the procedure. Peace criticized the move, complaining that it made the process too long, and Skipping Stone organized a letter-writing campaign calling on the Ministry of Health to change the decision.


Encouraging the medical “transition” of minors wasn’t enough for this charity and, in early 2022, Skipping Stone also began advertising its “sex work” peer groups. The groups are hosted in partnership with Shift Calgary, an organization that describes itself as a


program that provides support to adults currently or previously engaged in sex work. Shift uses a rights-based approach to sex work, recognizing that sex work is a choice for many and respecting the rights of adults to make this choice. Shift also recognizes that for some, factors such as poverty or exploitation can put people into situations where they don’t have control. The program meets people where they are at, whether they want to continue sex work, safely transition, or anything in-between.


After the first Trans Sex Work Peer Group meeting, both organizations announced that they would continue holding the zoom sessions on the last Monday of every month. Groups were held on March 28th and April 25th. Since then, the decision has been made to hold the group every other month instead.

It should be noted that none of the announcements about the group have many any mention of an age requirement, and a handy link is always provided for more details about how to join.


To access any Skipping Stone group, all you have to do is go to the groups page, scroll to the bottom, and select a group. A quick click of the submit button and you are taken to the zoom links and password for all meetings, including the Trans Sex Work Peer Group. When the group starts, you simply follow the link and input the password, and you are accepted into the meeting.


The lack of an age verification process—or an age requirement at all—and easy access to the group is concerning. Any minor can join these meeting with little effort. The fact that Skipping Stone doesn’t have a hard divide between its adult and youth services also reflects the wider trend in trans activism to blur the lines between adult desires and children’s ability to consent to live-altering decisions.


Skipping Stone claims to be a youth support organization, but it actively seeks to make the process of irreversible medical “transition” more accessible to minors. Its low age limit for groups discussing medical and surgical “transition”—and no age limit at all for a group discussing “sex work” (in other words, prostitution)—should raise red flags for anyone concerned about child safeguarding.


The expanded mandate and shift to providing more adult services likely would not have been possible without Skipping Stone’s 2019 fundraising efforts. However, all of those funds were raised on the basis of the organization’s status as a youth charity. Even a fundraising video released by the charity talked only about “trans youth,” as seen in the screen capture below.


After Skipping Stone received the funding to continue and expand operations on this basis, it used that money to pivot into a much more adult direction. Now, a charity that has consistently and repeatedly targeted youth in its services and advocacy is co-hosting a group where participants present “sex work” as an “essential” career option.


Furthermore, this is a charity that still receives plenty of government funding. Skipping Stone’s latest CRA records are not yet available but the organization, which is still registered as the Skipping Stone Scholarship Foundation, has received a further $28,057 in April 2021 from Employment and Social Development Canada, a federal government department. The money was given through the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program, which “seeks to provide youth, particularly those who face barriers to employment with access to work opportunities.”


Perhaps some of the individuals and businesses who donated during the 2019 fundraising effort and who continue to support the organization today would not be so quick to part with their money if they knew that what it means to “support trans youth” is to help minors medically “transition,” to provide resources for binding their breasts or genitals, and to introduce them to “sex work.” Perhaps people wouldn’t want their tax dollars going to such an organization either.


What Skipping Stone and other youth-focused organizations like it do and lobby for needs to be known, scrutinized, and opposed. It has been hidden under the guise of inclusivity long enough.


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