2 min

Tools for change

Wellness Project leads to positive change

It has been two years since the Wellness Project completed its survey and reported the results to the community.

Since that time, those involved in the project say the importance and visibility of queer-related health issues within Ottawa’s mainstream organizations has been raised to new levels.

According to Bruce Bursey, a member of the project’s management committee, the survey was “a catalyst” for the creation of a range of new programming for Ottawa’s GLBT residents and their families throughout the National Capital Region’s service providers.

“In fact it strengthened the relationship between the [queer] community and the service providers,” says Bursey. “As a result of this work, we learned to work together, we learned we had common goals, which has really made a huge difference when it came time to implement the recommendations.”

One specific impact of the project, says Bursey, has been the city formally acknowledging the needs of transgendered people.

“Prior to that [the survey], I don’t think it was as fully appreciated or understood – both in the gay community and the mainstream community – what the challenges are that transgendered people live with on a daily basis,” he says.

Bursey points out that the city has begun to include separate unisex bathrooms in all new community and recreation centres, to help meet the needs of transgendered people and other residents who may not feel comfortable using the more traditional public bathrooms for men or women.

“The city recognized that is something that would really make a difference,” says Bursey of the unisex bathrooms. “The city did this on its own, we didn’t ask them to do it.”

Anne Wright, a primary consultant on the project and co-author of the survey’s final report, says without the Wellness Project, she is doubtful the city would have funded the feasibility study for a queer community centre, which had been identified as a top priority in the survey.

“With the support we’re getting from the mayor and senior staff, I think that we are making leaps and bounds towards actually establishing a community centre,” says Wright, who also sits on the city’s Equity And Diversity Advisory Committee. “And we’re expecting to see a lot more movement on [the community centre] this year.”

In addition, Wright says the survey also brought to light the needs of Ottawa’s queer youth, as well the city’s gay and lesbian parents – two groups that had been often overlooked in the past.

And although the Wellness Project was targetted at Ottawa, Bursey says the survey questionnaire itself was formulated to be replicated in other communities across Canada.

“One of the goals was to provide a model that would stand no matter where it was – whether it was Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Newfoundland or whatever – but that the same principles could be applied,” he explains. “So we wanted to make sure that we designed a process that could be duplicated.”

Christine Davis, who led the research process of the survey, says replicating the study in another community would add scientific value to the project’s initial research “and gives you even more evidence, in a way, to make [positive] change.”

“It really adds additional credibility, because if you can find some of the same stories in other cities across Canada, it can only strengthen the issues,” says Davis. “And, at the same time, there might be regional differences that you can capture that way as well.”

She adds that it would also be valuable for the survey to be conducted within Ottawa’s queer community every five to 10 years.