Pride flag. (Stock photo - Cassidy Muir)

Vernon embraces LGBTQ/2S community

“We have had lots of engagement and we’ve had over 300 individuals that we’ve been in touch with over the last year.”

Over the past year, educational programs and resources have been popping up around Vernon to support the local LGBTQ/2S+ community.

Many of these programs have stemmed from a recent four-part initiative through the Family Resource Centre, thanks to funding received from Trans Care B.C. and the Shuswap-North Okanagan Division of Family Practice.

According to community counselling and LGBTQ/2S coordinator Avril Paice, the first aspect falls under education and outreach.

“Any organization or individual in the community can reach out to me for information or resources; professionals can reach out to me for consultations or for how their organization can be more inclusive and I can go out and do presentations and workshops and provide a large library of written and digital resources that we have,” she said. “We have had lots of engagement on that and we’ve had over 300 individuals that we’ve been in touch with over the last year and we’ve spent nearly 100 hours doing that.”

Related: Vernon school district hosts renowned LGBT storyteller

Related: Syrian refugee to share his story during Kelowna’s pride parade

As part of their outreach program, a community guide is also available that informs people how to serve the local LGBTQ/2S population and provides information on terminology, how to be inclusive and more. The latest version was released in November and was distributed through doctor’s offices and non-profits.

Paice said this also allows for partnerships with other organizations that have similar goals. She cited Generous Space Ministries, a national organization who have a local chapter in Vernon, which is for people who are LGBTQ+ and Christian. Through the child development association NONA, Paice said the focus was on education for people working with young children.

The second aspect of the initiative is called Rainbow Families and is meant to facilitate healthy conversations between families with someone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ/2S community and provides a space for safe communication. Paice said they currently work with 25 families and those interested in joining can connect with facilitators through their Facebook group, LGBTQ/2S Rainbow Families of Vernon BC and Area.

The initiative also uses an advisory council which currently consists of 15 members who come from organizations, non-profits, health organizations or have a vested interest in the community. They meet throughout the year to make decisions on the initiative and give feedback on current programs.

The last aspect of the program is the youth group, which predates the Family Resource Centre’s initiative and has been running for about three years. It currently has 15 active members ages 15-25 who meet once a week at Teen Junction.

“It’s a safe space for kids and young adults to come out and be with like-minded people, be in an accepting space, get education and learn about opportunities that are of interest to them,” said Paice, noting that while it was created by volunteers, funding has allowed the group to hire a project coordinator.

While the project was only organized as a short-term venture, Paice said the community response has been incredible.

“The community is really coming out when we offer something and they’re really interested in information about the programming,” she said.

Other support initiatives have also come into existence in the past year, namely, the Safe Place program which aims to provide safe havens for LGBTQ/2S+ members in need. While no one has felt the need to use the service, RCMP and the Community Safety Unit are impressed by those who want to be included in the program. Since its launch in October 2018, 20 local businesses have decided to participate and now sport the symbol in their windows, signifying them as a safe location.

“The safe place program for me is really just putting it out there saying this is a safe place and a safe harbour for everyone,” said Rachael Zubick of the Community Safety Unit. “Avril Paice is really the person on the ground working with the community.”

While many have believed that most of the community travels to larger epicenters like Kelowna for support groups and community programs, Paice said that their job is to offer the services locally and make sure they are readily available to the individuals who need or want them.

“There are a variety of reasons that people would travel to other communities for resources. Usually it would be because a larger community will have more offerings for what they’re looking for — for example Kelowna has the Gay Pride Festival — or the other reason would be for privacy and confidentiality. People may not want to be out in their own community but they may want to participate in things in another community where they’re not living their daily life.”

She said that it’s difficult to know what percentage of the community they are serving because census numbers on the LGBTQ/2S community have not yet been established.

“We’re not ever concerned if someone is going somewhere else for services but we would like to know whether that’s something that should be readily available in Vernon so we can take a look at that but, at the same time, it may just be that they don’t want a service where they live.”

Related: ‘Gaybourhoods’ are expanding, not disappearing: UBC study

Related: Slow start for LGBTQ safe place program: Vernon coordinator

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