The executive director of Vancouver’s homelessness magazine wants to add queer voices to upcoming editions so “our readership could get a better understanding of what it’s like being a homeless LGBT person on the street struggling with homelessness, mental illness, poverty and addiction.”
“There are a lot of social issues affecting the LGBT community, and we wanted to provide services to them so they felt they had a voice and got those voices in our magazines,” Sean Condon says.
Megaphone magazine, which is sold on the streets of Vancouver by homeless and low-income vendors, has teamed up with Qmunity to host free, weekly drop-in writing workshops for queer people and allies who deal with issues of poverty, unstable housing, mental health and homelessness.
Megaphone already runs 10 writing workshops downtown and in the Downtown Eastside, but Condon felt it was time to expand to the West End to meet the unique challenges of marginalized queer people.
He points to a 2007 study from BC’s McCreary Centre that found queer youth were over-represented among marginalized and street-involved youth. According to the study, one in three women and one in 10 men identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
“This is an astounding statistic,” Condon says.
“People still don’t realize the amount of stigma queer people face,” he continues. “That experience can be very isolating, and that can actually result in poverty and alienation resulting in homelessness. A lot of people, for example, are being kicked out of homes by parents who aren’t prepared to accept them, and some LGBT people experience difficulty in finding jobs and fitting in.”
The drop-ins are facilitated by queer author Alex Leslie, who has run Megaphone workshops for three years at eight sites mostly accessed by unemployed people and people dealing with homelessness.
“I would say there are lots of policies in place at housing facilities to make queer people safe, but I definitely heard from participants of my workshops in those spaces that these aren’t places they can really be out,” she says.
“We really want to emphasize that we don’t want to criticize other places, but we want to set this space apart as something that is queer-positive,” she says. “People can come, and there is not any question if they are out or not or that there is any danger in coming out. They are out by just being there, and there’s a lot of freedom in that.”
Leslie says that the workshops are open to people of all writing abilities and that participants are free to write about any topic, in any genre. They are also free to submit their work to Megaphone, as well as other publications.
“They can also chat with me about where to submit their work,” she says. “I’m a writer, and when you’re coming up as a queer writer there are not many spaces for you. We do writing exercises, and people also bring in the work they are working on in their own time and get the expertise of workshopping it in the group. People can gather for a while, gain some confidence and then submit their work to a literary journal, for example. A guy from one of my groups got a piece published in Ricepaper.”
“The whole point of the Megaphone creative writing program is for people to tell their stories in their own voices,” Leslie says. “We do very little editing of what people submit in their writing. In some different workshops I’ve run, we’ve published pieces that no reporter could ever write.”