When I first heard about the bold and courageous plans to build a “bricks and mortar” community centre for the queer community, many things ran through my mind. I thought it could be a central hub for resources and programs, offer our community job opportunities and create a sense of empowerment and importance. But what stood out most for me was the statement it would make to all Ottawa residents.
To the straight community it could say, “We are here, strong and cohesive. We can work together, overcome obstacles and we are determined to be heard and respected. We are permanent, backed and supported by the government and we have our own culture and needs.”
That message to straights is a necessary and important statement. But perhaps the most crucial message is the one sent to our own community.
The knowledge that the government and city supports us not just with words and legislation, but also with money and by helping us pave the way with this huge project, would be affirming and empowering. It also would give us something physical and concrete to be proud of. It would represent a great task that we set out to do and completed with dedication and resourcefulness. It would be a tangible testimony to how strong, cooperative and connected we are as a community. It would be a demonstration that we are able to survive such a long and difficult process and be successful in the end.
The message I would get from the community centre would be much more personal.
When I first came out, I felt like I lost everything. My church of almost a decade was no longer safe and welcoming. My closest friends were no longer understanding and caring. My school suddenly became dangerous and I was afraid. I didn’t feel like my house was my home, and I felt disconnected and removed from my family. All these feelings of fear and isolation seemed to arise overnight.
Luckily, the supportive friends that remained told me about Pink Triangle Youth and I began to get involved in the queer community. I felt safe, like I belonged, and I was accepted for who I was.
Feeling a part of a community, embracing a culture and knowing that there was a place that I could go and be safe saved my life. Unfortunately, a lot of youth (and adults) who are coming out don’t feel like they have resources or supports. They feel disconnected, isolated and removed. This affects them negatively and can lead to self-harm, risky behaviours and even suicide.
What message does a community centre send to those struggling to come out? What about those who have not come out yet, but will? A centre will help those in need get connected to services and programs they require, and provide reassurance to those coming out.
The truth is we must come together as a community to make this work. This is our centre and if we truly want and need it, the work cannot fall on a few select shoulders. Every one of us must prove our dedication and support. If we believe in it, we must all sacrifice our time and money for it, or else it will never happen.
There is still a long road ahead, but I believe our community will be strong for it. Not only because we will have a community centre, but also because we will have come together to overcome all the obstacles. I believe a community centre would have helped me and I hope we will have it soon to help others.