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Rural Ontario seminar for straight professionals

Workshop aims to educate everyone from doctors to teachers on gay issues

Jeremy Dias was bullied while at school in Sault Ste Marie.
An upcoming seminar in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, seeks to educate straight, small-town professionals on how to meet the needs of local queer people.
 
The Welcome Friend Association is calling on doctors, nurses, social workers, legal workers, teachers, private sector workers – everyone! – to take part in the two-day seminar conducted by Deborah Woodman.
 
“I teach both the social construction of gender and the social construction of sexuality. One of the things that keeps coming up is how much a lot of the information needs to be presented to wider society,” Woodman says.
 
The seminar will cover the basics of sexuality, gender identity, sexual health and safety, as well as more complicated issues such as understanding the needs of queer people at every stage in life, how to meet those needs, and how to create safe spaces.
 
The seminar is called Deconstructing Sexuality: Beyond Sensitivity Training — Moving from Tolerance to Acceptance and Inclusion in Everyday Life, and that’s what Woodman is hoping it will accomplish.
 
“Tolerance just means I allow you to live. Acceptance means we’re working together, and that’s a big deal,” she says.
 
Woodman admits there is a bit of homophobia in her small-town community. Sault Ste Marie is where Ottawa’s Jeremy Dias famously filed a human rights complaint against his school and school board for the homophobic discrimination he experienced. Some people still fear their jobs will be at risk if they come out, she says.
 
Harry Stewart, chair of the Welcome Friend Association, says it is something he has experienced firsthand.
 
When he had to rush his partner, Chris, to the emergency room for appendicitis, the woman taking information ignored him.
 
“She was looking at me like, why was I there. Even when I said ‘spouse’ she ignored me,” he says.
 
When he said his insurance covers Chris, he was asked, “Is that your father?”
 
“It’s totally not in their realm of thinking. I’m assuming it’s different in Toronto and bigger cities, but that’s what people are faced with in smaller cities and rural areas,” Stewart says. 
 
The Welcome Friend Association has been working to make the queer community more accepted through a series of conferences.
 
“What we were missing is the professionals that deal with us, the people we interact with on a daily basis. We need to educate social services and private organizations that deal with the queer community,” Stewart says.
 
He encourages queer people to ask their employers and service providers to sign up for the seminar, as it is geared to people who aren’t already familiar with these issues.
 
The conference will be held May 15 and 16 in Sault Ste Marie.

Registration is $350. All proceeds will go to help send kids to Rainbow Camp, the Welcome Friend Association’s first annual queer youth summer camp in Thessalon, Ontario. For more information, go to welcomefriend.ca.