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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Community Pride

Nathan Raine
Published Thursday June 11, 05:51 pm
Saskatchewan needs more, and better-funded, LGBT centres like these

Photo Credit: Illustration by Myron Campbell

 Saskatoon Pride Week runs June 7th-14th while Regina's kicks off right after, beginning on the 15th and running to the 21st — and both festivals have grown in size and support since their inceptions.

Both cities, of course, have universities with strong LGBT centres, but for the wider community, Saskatoon is recognized for having some of the better LGBT services in Western Canada, thanks to the long-standing Avenue Community Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (ACC). Regina is less recognized in these areas, although Q, a bar / nightclub / community centre, functions as the centrepiece for LGBT services in the Queen City.

The ACC has recently changed their name to OUTSaskatoon. Rachel Loewen Walker, executive director of OUTSaskatoon, says the name change came at the request of the community, as their former name wasn't conducive to boosting presence and awareness.

“I don’t want to discredit the value of the previous name — previously we were in the Avenue Building [on 2nd Ave. downtown], so that led to its naming,” she says. “But we haven't been there in years, and it's not as explicit that we are a service organization for LGBTQ people. So ‘OUTSaskatoon’ is a better link to our mission. When looking for support for gender and sexuality, my hope is that we're easier to find.”

Their mission remains very much the same: OUTSaskatoon provides peer support counselling, education, and a sexual health clinic, among many other services. While Saskatchewan has progressed somewhat when it comes to the acceptance of LGBT persons, Walker says these services are still very much needed.

“All year long we’re responding to phone calls and people in different states of crisis. There are still people committing suicide. The effects of isolation and homophobia are still huge in terms of depression and increased addiction, as well as other mental health problems,” she says. “We need to provide a space for people who come out and need a safe, confidential space. We need those positive, supportive environments to know there is a great future ahead.”

The need is certainly not limited to Saskatoon. The University of Regina has an active pride centre, as well as Q, the gay and lesbian bar and social centre. But OUTSaskatoon remains the only health-oriented community centre for LGBT persons in Saskatchewan. Both Regina and Prince Albert have tried to implement their own centres, with financial obstacles getting in the way of achieving an actual centre.

“Saskatoon is lucky to have such a vibrant base of community organizations,” says Loewen Walker. “In Prince Albert there is a great need, and we tried to set up a sister centre there years ago, but there simply wasn't enough funding. In Saskatoon we have funding from the Provincial and Federal governments, as well as from business. We've been around for 24 years, so it takes a long time to build that support,” she says, noting that in Prince Albert there is limited LGBT support now, with only one independent individual doing it on a volunteer basis.

In Regina, the situation is a little more complicated. Q has long been an active member of the LGBT support and community scene, but they’re often thought of as a bar and nightclub first. But general manager Cory Oxelgren says that Q should be thought of as a community centre first, and bar second.

“We consider ourselves a community centre that has a bar / nightclub aspect, not the other way around,” says Oxelgren.

Over the last number of years, the club has housed phone support lines, provided space for LGBT groups and events, and even housed the now-defunct Rainbow Wellness Resource Centre in its basement.

“We housed the Rainbow Wellness Centre, which I would argue was closer to what Saskatoon was doing with [OUTSaskatoon]. There was a director hired and they got funding and a board of directors,” says Oxelgren. “But after a while, I don't know if the need wasn't as great or the volunteers dried up, but it kind of went defunct. It's still sitting there in limbo.”

But while the wellness centre is currently defunct, Oxelgren says that Q is definitely helping Regina’s LGBT scene by providing a safe, welcoming space for social interaction.

“Yeah, I do believe some of the things going on here have been overlooked — specifically with Q, because it’s our mandate to run a social organization. But a social place has its merits,” he says. “If I was a young gay person coming out of the closet, where is the first place I would go? To the bar! If you’re a young gay person coming out, do you go to the Avenue Centre or to the bar?”

Still, Oxelgren acknowledges the downside in having Regina's foremost LGBT centre linked to a bar and nightclub. There’s more difficulty finding monetary support, for example.

“When you’re dealing with people who have addictions, the bar is not the right place to do that. There’s merit in that argument,” he says. “The LGBT community would have a difficult time getting grants to hold certain things because the social club upstairs is making a profit. So as a bar I understand why people think that Q should have nothing to do with the health and wellness portion of the community. But I would argue that we are the frontline people — when people come out, it's usually at a club. So we’re trying to facilitate a safe space for that.”

And even though Pride Week brings plenty of attention to each city's respective LGBT centres, both Oxelgren and Loewen Walker agree that there’s still a lot that needs to be done in both cities.

“There are certainly gaps in the health services: young people aren't practicing safe sex as much anymore; there’s an increase in HIV in young gay men,” says Oxelgren. “But you don’t hear a thing about it in the media — it’s gay men, so it’s not an issue. I would say that both the Saskatoon and Regina communities are not active or loud enough on that front.”

Walker echoes that sentiment — whether a social- or health-based organization, both cities and their centres have a limited reach. They hope that the increased attention during Pride Week will expose the wider community to the fact that the need for them is still great.

“I think all levels of leadership and government have to recognize the value of community-based organizations,” says Walker. “Being in OUTSaskatoon has really taught me how valuable drop-in centres are. We work with people who fall through the cracks. So if places like this weren't here, where would they go? The value that human community services provide, regardless of their focus — it’s more valuable that we can recognize.” 

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