2 min

Healthy rainbow

The Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition’s (CRHC) took the first few steps toward a national strategy for improving the health and wellness of queers this month at its first annual conference, held in Quebec.

The first nationally-focussed forum designed to build partnerships between primary healthcare practitioners, institutions and queer communities, the event provided the 300-plus attendees with an unique opportunity to share experiences, information and ideas regarding improving the health, wellness and access to care for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people.

“We’re actually ecstatic about the outcomes of the conference,” says executive director Gens Hellquist.

The conference workshops, 57 in all, explored a variety of topics from queer parenting to lesbian-specific health needs to same-sex partner abuse and queer youth to homophobic violence and heterosexism in nursing.

“I think that maybe the one surprise is how such a diverse group of people were able to come together and agree and discuss and learn from one another,” Hellquist says. “I’ve been going to these things for 30 years in this country, and we always seem to get into these little camps, fighting for our own turf, and that didn’t happen at this conference. We came together as one tribe.”

CRHC, formed at a gay and lesbian health services conference in Saskatoon in 2001, received a Health Canada grant to come up with an initiative to address problems queer people have accessing healthcare.

Co-chair Donna Huen says the conference not only provided queer attendees with an opportunity to share information and experiences, but it also offered a forum to network and discuss the community’s needs with mainstream healthcare providers and policy-makers from across Canada.

The need for improving the access to quality healthcare for transgendered and transsexual Canadians was especially prominent.

“The issue for trans people is not substandard care, but the absence of care,” says Nichola Ward, a trans woman who moderated a workshop.

This lack of sensitive care was highlighted by a demonstration of about 70 people in support of Cynthia Cousens, an Ottawa trans woman who says she experienced transphobic treatment while she was a patient at a Gatineau hospital last month.

According to an information pamphlet handed out by Egale at the protest, Cousens – hospitalized for a serious medical condition – was asked to leave the Centre Hospitalier des Vallées de l’Outaouais in Gatineau, after informing one of the doctors treating her that she had previously undergone sex reassignment surgery.

“I want to stress, however, that this was just one doctor and a couple of [members of the] nursing staff that offended not only myself, but other patients that came forward and gave me their names: they saw what happened and they were disturbed,” says Cousens, who intends to file a complaint. She was admitted to the Ottawa Hospital without incident.

* For more information about the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition, check out or call 1-800-955-5129.