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Focus groups cancelled, messenger blamed

A group dedicated to stopping violence against women and children has cancelled a series of focus groups aimed at lesbians this month after an Xtra story called attention to the study’s exclusion of bisexual women.

The Metropolitan Action Committee On Violence Against Women And Children (METRAC) had planned a series of focus groups on public safety and violence prevention targeting lesbian-identified women, including trans women. Xtra reported in our Mar 1 issue that safety director Narina Nagra said bisexual women are not included in the study.

METRAC executive director Wendy Komiotis doesn’t dispute the exclusion. But she says Xtra was divisive for mentioning it.

“We’re just devastated by this. It’s been very damaging to our agency. This has so distracted our energies. We’re a very small agency. We have a $65,000 deficit,” Komiotis told Xtra before hanging up the phone in the middle of an interview.

In an open letter on its website, METRAC blames the Xtra story for the negative feedback it’s received from bisexual groups and individuals (turn to the letters on page 26).

“The Xtra article misparaphrased our words, damaged our reputation, harmed solidarity among queer women and miscontextualized the project and METRAC’S goals,” states the letter. “Unfortunately in this instance, the media’s power has been used to divide queer communities at the expense of METRAC and queer communities themselves.”

METRAC’s letter says it was not the intention to exclude bisexual women’s experiences from its $5,000 study, for which it received $1,000 from the Lesbian And Gay Community Appeal.

“Rather, given our limited funding resources we found it necessary to pilot this project with a specific focus on women who identify as lesbians and their particular safety issues, and strategies for community safety.”

The letter stated that it could make a future case for funding to focus on the unique public safety needs and concerns “of other communities, including bisexual women, trans men and queer women.”

Instead of the focus groups, METRAC’s holding a community meeting on Thu, Mar 15 from 6 to 8pm at the 519 Community Centre (519 Church St) to discuss the project.