3 min

Out in the cold

When holiday revelations go bad

Credit: Paul Baik

Imagine you’re a student, away from home for the first time. Maybe you’ve always known you were different, maybe you’ve just been waiting for the freedom to do a little self-exploration.

By the end of the semester you’ve got it all figured out. You’re queer. Armed with your newfound knowledge you head home for the holidays, more than a little anxious, but determined to come out to your folks.

Now imagine the worst-case scenario comes true. Your parents freak out and you find yourself cut off financially, unable to pay the next installment of tuition, for books, for rent, for food. Where do you turn?

For university students in Toronto there are emergency services available through their university including short-term housing, financial aid and counselling. The trick is knowing how to access these services and feeling entitled to take advantage of them.

“I think a lot of people hold back, who don’t access the re-sources because of shame and embarrassment,” says Jude Tate, coordinator of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) Resources And Programs at the University Of Toronto. “That they don’t have money, that they’re broke, that their situation might be more dire than others and they don’t know how to talk about it. Talking to a professional within the university is important. The resources are there for students who are in these kinds of circumstances.”

Tate is often the first point of contact for queer students in crisis. “Students contact my office,” she says, “then we discuss what the situation is and what the needs are, whether it be financial or housing. And certainly emotional support as well for whatever the crisis may be.”

She then puts the student in touch with the campus’ financial services department. “There’s a huge awareness in the leadership of that department about students who identify as LGBTQ that they do run a risk or live with that vulnerability as students around financial resources and home stuff.”

At York similar measures are in place. “We’ve heard from students in many different situations over the years,” says Phyllis Lepore Babcock in York’s Student Financial Services. “Whether it be that they’re coming out of the closet or their parents don’t agree with their area of study, even. Every year we do have students in these sorts of situations and we can accommodate them.”

Lepore Babcock says that the bursary application process is accelerated for students in crisis. “We would move those students up. We can usually do that within a day or so… but the bursary may not be the answer to all their problems so we might hook them up with the work-study program, emergency housing, counselling. We want to hook them up with other emergency services at the university so that they don’t drop out of school.”

Ryerson students have access to the campus Safe House in addition to emergency funds and counselling. “We assist in crisis situations and being evicted from the home because of one’s sexual orientation would certainly be a crisis situation,” says Joanna Holt, a counsellor at Ryerson’s Centre For Student Development And Counselling and the chair of the Safe House.

“If a student finds themselves to be at physical, sexual or emotional risk of harm and they are financially destitute the Safe House will provide support and advocacy. We’ll also help them find stable housing…. The goal being to help the student successfully transition through the crisis without having to withdraw from school.”

There are also resources available outside of the university system for youth in similar difficulties, but, “There’s not a lot,” says Leslie Chudnovsky, coordinator of the Mentoring And Housing Program at Supporting Our Youth (SOY). “There is far greater a need than there are resources.”

And although SOY doesn’t offer emergency funding, “we have secured a number of units in downtown housing co-ops and through non-profit housing providers where youth matched with mentors can obtain subsidized housing. That’s long-term housing so that’s a real benefit.”

As well SOY offers a supper club where “at least once a week there’s a healthy meal in a queer environment,” and a variety of social programs that help connect youth to a supportive community.

“Some youth who come out to their families really don’t know other queer youth so they are very isolated,” says Chudnovsky. “Not all but it’s not uncommon.”

Chudnovsky suggests that youth think about their options before coming out “Even if it’s a matter of calling the [Lesbian Gay Bi] Youth Line to help prepare you and to hear the range of things to consider so that you’re choosing to tell when you’re in a stronger position.” But she adds, “It’s never too late to get support.”

* For more information on Supporting Our Youth’s Mentoring And Housing Program contact (416) 924-2100 ext 247 or e-mail The Lesbian Gay Bi Youth Line can be reached at (416) 962-9688 in Toronto or 1-800-268-9688 elsewhere in Ontario.