On June 22, Rainbow Health Ontario (RHO), a program of Sherbourne Health in Toronto, launched LGBTQ2SQ Health Connect—a new online learning platform dedicated to providing evidence-based LGBTQ2 clinical and cultural competency training to service providers in Ontario’s health and social service sectors. This is a first-of-its-kind platform that brings RHO’s traditionally in-person training programs into the virtual world.
The new platform, according to Devan Nambiar, RHO’s program manager, “captures RHO’s well-known, evidence-based expertise in sexual and gender minority health care, and makes it even more accessible than ever before.” At the moment, the platform includes foundational modules on LGBTQ2 and trans health, as well as opportunities for more interactive engagement. The modules are currently only offered in English, however there are French modules in the works.
Though the online learning platform wasn’t created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (which has undoubtedly presented countless barriers to health and social service providers receiving LGBTQ2 inclusion training), the launch of this new platform couldn’t have come at a better time. With in-person gatherings restricted to 10 person “bubbles” in Ontario—and, even then, discouraged as much as possible—an online platform will go a long way in helping service providers increase workplace inclusivity during these unprecedented times.
The pandemic is a clear example of why shifting to an online learning approach is necessary. But the ultimate benefit of this new platform isn’t simply its convenient timing; it’s the increased accessibility and availability of LGBTQ2 health and inclusion training.
“When [RHO] used to do training, we had to go in-person. And because training has historically been half a day or a full day, [online training is] better for people who, in health care settings, often don’t have four to seven hours to attend a training,” says Nambiar. Through the online platform, he says, service providers will be able to access one module at a time, at their convenience.
Despite efforts by organizations and educators across Ontario and other jurisdictions, many service providers are still missing the basics when it comes to supporting LGBTQ2 clients. That’s a big part of why making these modules available is so important. In the past year, RHO delivered 97 training sessions, reaching more than 4,000 people. , “Online training allows us to reach more people, and is more accessible to people across the province,” says Nambiar. “There’s a huge need for the knowledge and information provided through this program.”
Devan hopes the learning platform can “accelerate the current momentum for LGBT2SQ health care in Ontario.”
“Through this site and training, [RHO] can support more providers to feel clinically and culturally competent in providing care for LGBT2SQ communities, which in turn leads to better care and support for LGBT2SQ communities across the province,” he says.
While there is very little research on what health and social service providers actually know when it comes to LGBTQ2 health and inclusion, available studies point to significant knowledge gaps. Numerous have shown that LGBTQ2 people often experience discrimination and stigma while accessing health and social services. One 2010 Trans Pulse study, for example, found that 52 percent of trans folks have had negative transphobic experiences in emergency rooms and 21 percent avoid the ER altogether.
Ensuring access to training for health care and social service providers is particularly important now given the persistent efforts by the Trump administration to remove health protections for LGBTQ2 people in the U.S. While similar government-led efforts aren’t currently underway in Canada, there is no certainty that will remain the case. Indeed, better training is a means of ensuring that, regardless of changes in government, LGBTQ2 people will continue to have access to affirming and inclusive care.
Moving forward, RHO hopes that LGBTQ2S Health Connect will help more service providers access the training they need to support LGBTQ2 service users and, by extension, improve the overall health and well-being of LGBTQ2 communities.
LGBT2SQ Health Connect is currently offering free modules, available from now till the end of December, after which there will be a small fee for individuals to access training sessions. More than anything else, Nambiar encourages “everyone who is in Ontario, whether you’re front line or not, to visit and learn, to sign up for the available free programs.”
“It is always important for us to learn how to provide equitable care. We want to reach as many providers as we can,” he says. All of us—whether or not we’re front-line health and social service providers in Ontario or beyond—can benefit from having a better understanding of LGBTQ2 communities and the skills to provide safe and supportive spaces for LGBTQ2 people.