An unconfirmed report of a young woman’s suicide Sunday of Pride Weekend is raising questions about supports available on the Pride site for queers in crisis.
Circumstances surrounding the unconfirmed death are not presently known but according to a witness who came upon the scene the deceased young woman was in her late teens or early twenties and clad in a “Pride costume and paraphernalia.” She is alleged to have jumped to her death just blocks away from the gaybourhood around 6pm on Jun 28. Police did not respond to inquiries by press time.
“It’s the first that I’ve heard about it and obviously I’m very saddened to hear of it,” responds Tracey Sandilands, executive director of Pride Toronto.
“If there was any correlation with her presence at Pride and whatever happened, it’s good to know these things because maybe there’s something we can do for future years to address things like this. If there was a relationship between Pride and her suicide, I’d want to know about it if even to make sure that there were some support services on site in the future.”
However Sandilands says it’d be up to organizations that do crisis work to step up and provide those services. “We don’t offer support services,” she says. “It’s up to the organizations that do those things to offer them. But certainly they could be more visible and it might be something that we could raise with them. We have the community fair, which is an option for those organizations to have a presence. But we don’t choose who has a presence and who doesn’t. We leave it up to them to decide if they want to be there.”
Sandilands recognizes that Pride “must be a difficult time for youth,” adding that she hopes to expand the offerings for youth as well as queer seniors next year.
“We haven’t had a very strong youth program in the past couple of years,” she says. “I don’t know what it was like before I came along but it’s something on our radar for next year…. I’m not sure how it’s going to be developed yet, as we haven’t started planning for next year yet, but there’s two things on our radar for next year: this program for youth and something for LGBT senior folks.”
Clare Nobbs, coordinator for community programs at Supporting Our Youth (SOY), says she’s unaware of any organizations offering crisis intervention at Pride but notes that SOY offered a full day of programming for youth at the Pride site on Jun 27 through Fruit Loopz, a queer arts program that took place at Buddies in Bad Times and the adjacent Alexander Parkette.
“[At Fruit Loopz] young people can come and sit in the shade and be involved in crafts and not really involved with the crazy kind of heady crowds of Church St,” says Nobbs. “We do try to stress self-care during times like Pride. If you are going to party, take care of yourself.”
Nobbs says that youth in crisis who find their way to Fruit Loopz would be referred to other organizations. “There are crisis lines that we recommend,” she says. “There’s the Gerstein Centre and also the Distress Centre. And people can walk into the nearest hospital emergency and say, ‘I’m in crisis.’ It’s by no means ideal… but the supports are, unfortunately, by no means, airtight and one hundred percent available.”
The Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line also has a presence at Pride. “The Youth Line was at Pride both Saturday and Sunday with a community fair booth set up,” says Aniska Ali, outreach coordinator with the Youth Line, “but that serves more as a source of information, a chance to interact with the community. In terms of support services for youth who may be experiencing a crisis situation, to the best of my knowledge, there was nothing set up the event itself.”
The Youth Line, a peer support phone line staffed by trained volunteers 26 years of age and under, offers callers the opportunity to speak to other queer-identified youth and obtain information and a sympathetic ear.
“It’s not a crisis intervention service,” says Ali. “We’re not like Kid’s Help Phone. Our volunteers are well trained and are able to offer support. However they are not certified counselors or social workers. So, if someone approached the Youth Line booth at Pride, which would have been staffed by a board member and a volunteer, they would have been met in a very supportive manner, but we would have tried to get that person to a crisis response unit.”
Nobbs says Pride can be a difficult time of the year for some queer youth, especially those who feel marginalized, rejected or abandoned by family, friends or lovers.
“It really highlights the challenges some people might have, for instance, with relationships, just as Christmas often highlights the failings or lack of family support,” says Nobbs. “Particularly for young people in the queer and trans community [Pride] may really bring out people’s possible distress over the lack of community for them, lack of friends or loved ones such as a lover — especially if there’s been a breakup.
“I think for some there may be this impression that if everyone around you is having an amazing time and is really happy to be who they are, and if that’s not what you’re experiencing as well then there has to be something wrong with you,” say Nobbs. “Also I think some people in the city are suffering because they may be feeling particularly isolated within — or being outside of — what is known as the LGBT community, which is of course, an umbrella of communities. So, for some people… they may feel that their experience is not being properly represented.”