Gender Journeys post #3: Creating an inclusive community for our trans neighbours

This is the third and final post in a series that shares what the Nanaimo Family Life Association’s Gender Journeys program, supported by United Way CNVI, is all about. In this post, we’re learning about the new training program NFLA is developing to teach service providers, health care workers and counsellors how to better support trans people. 

WEbsite Survey screenshot WEB SIZE.jpgImagine you are having your first talk with a new counsellor, or you’re speaking to a nurse at a clinic.  

You’ve introduced yourself, given them your name, but then they refer to you as ‘Kevin’. That’s not your name. It doesn't even sound much like your name. 

You feel awkward but you gently correct them. They apologize profusely. But then a couple minutes later, they call you ‘Kevin’ again. The first time or two, maybe it’s a mistake. It’s certainly unprofessional, but just a mistake. And yet you keep correcting them and they keep doing it. After a while, it feels like something more than a mistake – like they don’t respect you. Like they are telling you you aren’t who you say you are. You decide it’s best not to get help from someone who doesn’t seem to respect you. 

This is just one of the ways that transgender residents in and around Nanaimo experience barriers to getting the help they need. 

But, especially during a pandemic, it’s extremely important that these folks are able to reach out for and get help, as those who identify as LGBTQI2S are in greater danger of being negatively affected by the pandemic. 

With the help of United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island funding, the Nanaimo Family Life Association is working to bring down those barriers. 

As a new part of NFLA’s Gender Journeys program, NFLA is developing a training program with the help of the trans community to teach service providers, health care workers, counsellors and volunteers about transgender issues, and how to respectfully engage with the transgender community. 

“What we are seeing is that, first and foremost, for trans folks in Nanaimo and the surrounding areas, there are no programs that are directly and exclusively for them, with the exception of the Gender Journeys program,” says NFLA’s executive director, Deborah Hollins.  

“Although many agencies might seek to support trans individuals, they may not have developed the skills and processes that are welcoming and are respectful of these individuals and their unique experiences. And that of course doesn’t have anything to do with intent, it’s just the way things have developed. So we reached out to the United Way to talk about securing some funding to be able to develop a comprehensive training program.” 

“What we hear from the [trans] community is we want to be able to access health care, we want to be able to access all those kinds of things, but when that is not done in a respectful way, or when we are experiencing, for example, being misgendered, it can really impede a person’s ability to want to move forward with the help,” says Deborah.  

“Quite often if an organization isn’t set up to really instill dignity and hope into these people, people leave feeling shamed. That's probably not the intent of whoever they are going to, but it’s a result when your life is not reflected in the organization that you are approaching for help.” 

Expecting to have the training program ready in the spring, NFLA is hoping to make a broad impact, working with hospitals, volunteer organizations and many more from Nanaimo and beyond. 

This kind of work seems especially urgent now, as the COVID-19 pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on the LGBTQI2S community. 

Finding and employer that is accepting of a trans person’s identity is difficult at the best of times, says Deborah, and so trans folks are seeing even more instability in their employment, and therefore, their finances, than the general population overall. 

“The anxiety that they experienced specifically with a history of, quite often being disconnected from family, not having those kinds of connections, makes their financial state really vulnerable,” explains Deborah. “Which of course increases anxiety, increases depression.” 

So breaking down barriers between our trans neighbours and essential services is extremely important. 

For Casey Brisson, the facilitator of the Gender Journeys support group, that work begins with people being willing to learn from their mistakes. 

“We are all human. I know that it can seem scary and uncomfortable to meet someone who is different in a way that you don’t understand, but being transgender is not all we are. Ultimately, we are all people first. We are all human beings. So just treat us like human beings. Recognize that you are learning, and you might make a mistake, and it’s OK as long as you own up to it.” 

“It’s not about knowing exactly what to say,” adds Deborah. “It’s about maintaining a curiosity, but balancing that with a sense of self-responsibility.” 

United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island is proud to be a part of making the Central and North Island more inclusive and safer for all who live here by supporting organizations like NFLA and programs like Gender Journeys through the federal government’s Emergency Community Support Fund. 

To support what we do, and these kinds of programs in your community, please consider donating today. If you need help on your gender journey, please reach out to the Nanaimo Family Life Association: