The path to sobriety and recovery can be a circuitous one, fraught with many obstacles and setbacks. It’s perhaps increasingly so for LGBT persons, who may face lingering stigmas regarding sexuality and gender.
We may have equal marriage rights and a surer foot in society, but it can be easy to forget that there are still plenty of people harbouring prejudices toward our community. For a vulnerable transgender or queer youth, perhaps in crisis as they grapple with addiction, this can prove daunting.
“A lot of queer and trans people don’t always feel comfortable accessing existing services,” says Geoffrey Wilson, co-founder of recovery group Pieces to Pathways (P2P). “There’s a real gap in services.”
Wilson understands the nature of recovery services all too well, as does P2P’s other founder Tim McConnell. Both noticed quite a few roadblocks to many LGBT recovery-seekers during their own journeys through the system.
“I used alcohol and drugs for about four years as a youth,” Wilson says. “I actually met Tim in recovery. We’re pretty open with it all, and as we started to live our lives again we realized that some of our queer and trans friends would ask for details about our story. We realized that we weren’t always comfortable referring them to a lot of the services in Toronto.”
“We had a very simple idea, really. We wanted to create a program that is developmentally appropriate to youth and young adults, and that’s culturally specific to the needs of LGBT people.”
The two teamed up with McConnell’s mother, who had been working in the social services sector for many years. She was able to set up a key meeting with the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network, an organization that plans, funds and executes initiatives to increase health care accessibility. But first McConnell and Wilson had to show that there was an actual need for what they were proposing.
“There’s no real data in Canada in regards to these issues,” Wilson points out. “So we had to conduct a needs assessment. We also partnered with Breakaway addiction services, and they provided guidance and support in gathering what we needed.”
“The thing is, we realize that everybody wants evidence-based research, but in our day-to-day lives we already know this problem exists. Addiction rates are higher in LGBT youth, and particularly in the trans communities.
With the assessment completed, and initial funding in place, P2P began its mission of reaching out to LGBT youth in search of recovery support.
“We do case management, we meet with people one-on-one, and just provide whatever support we can,” Wilson says. “But it’s also dealing with some people who are having a lot of challenges living and being in the world. We try to help them to be more self-reliant.
“I had the opportunity to get sober and enter recovery. I feel like the only way I can give back to my community is through a life of service. That’s why I feel like advocacy for this kind of program is so important.”