Empowering 2SLGBTQ+ allies in rural communities through education

4 MIN READ

“Especially in an area like ours, where there’s Ottawa and Montreal very close by, it’s easy for people to think that support is there. But it’s not. It’s a very rural community and it’s a bilingual community."

Nathalie Dubé

Growing up as a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community in a rural area can be extremely isolating. 

Nathalie Dubé, Co-Founder of the Prescott-Russell LGBTQ & Allies Group, says her family is originally from Prescott-Russell. She was shocked when she moved to the community in the early 2000’s and found no local resources for members of the local 2SLGBTQ+ community. 

“In communities where there’s no support, there’s more risk of abuse, there’s more risk of suicide, there’s more risk of people living poor health outcomes,” says Nathalie.

“The online community has been a huge help to a lot of people,” Nathalie explains, “but there’s also a lot of misinformation, as we know. It’s also sometimes hard to find people in your own community, even though there are resources online. So, you meet people around the world, but that doesn’t help you when you go back to your everyday life.” 

The LGBTQ group in Prescott-Russell is still fairly new, but since its inception in 2017 it has been key to giving people an outlet to find proper resources. However, many of those resources are still located in big cities, and not everyone has access to a vehicle. 

“I know people who waited until they were 16 so they could take their family car and drive into Ottawa to try to go to a youth group or try to find people,” says Nathalie.  

Creating allies by bringing information to people

Whether you identify as 2SLGBTQ+ or as a local ally standing up for inclusion, everyone is on their own unique path to pride. United Way East Ontario is committed to fostering open and inclusive communities—this means helping create safe spaces where kids and families can talk about their experiences, be supported, and feel represented. 

Centre Novas – CALACS Francophone de Prescott-Russell, an organization which helps women who have been victims of sexual violence, recognized this need for safe spaces in Prescott-Russell years ago and launched an interactive and educational program called LGBTQui. 

The program brings information about the 2SLGBTQ+ community to schools and citizens throughout the municipality. Nathalie explains that it was designed to help residents understand the differences between sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity. It also teaches some 2SLGBTQ+ history and allows audience members to understand the needs that exist within their own communities.  

“People have been appreciative because it helped them understand the differences between different words, terms and experiences,” she says. “Not everybody knows a trans person. Not everybody knows a non-binary person. And some may know someone, but they don’t know what to say or know what’s acceptable or how to address certain things. And when we don’t feel comfortable, we tend to avoid, we tend to shun, we tend to push away. So this opens up the discussion at the very least.” 

"Allies who have attended these presentations say their understanding has grown, their ability to feel more comfortable has grown, as well as their realizations of what the challenges [associated with] being LGBTQ.”

One of the main goals of LGBTQui is to help folks understand the 2SLGBTQ+ community and the importance of addressing local issues. Also, to educate them on how they can support friends and family, as allies, regardless of how they identify. 

Expanding LGBTQui

Nathalie hopes that by working alongside United Way, the Prescott-Russell LGBTQ & Allies Group will have support in bringing this programming—in a bilingual format—to more people across the region. 

“LGBTQui can be the start of something. We hope it can enhance the quality of life for 2SLGBTQ+ folks in the area,” says Nathalie. 

United Way believes that everyone in Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark County and Renfrew County deserves the chance to be heard, included, and supported. That’s why we’re proud to help initiatives  like LGBTQui reach more people. We also started Path to Pride, a 100% local initiative sharing stories to celebrate diversity and raise funds to support kids and families on their journeys. 

“We tend to think that because so many [2SLGBTQ+] rights have been achieved or obtained in the last decade or two, that we have made so much progress and everything is okay. And that’s just not the case,” says Nathalie. “There’s still a lot of abuse, there’s still a high suicide risk, there are still a lot of issues, and all of this can be helped by the presence of well-informed allies.” 

Nathalie believes most people don’t realize the impact they can have on other people’s lives by making small changes in their own. 

She says people who have listened to the program have come out of it saying: “Now I know how I’ll talk to my grandchildren. Now I understand what my neighbour is going through. I can be more aware and sensitive and help or just support.” 

LGBTQui is about opening a door for helping, caring, understanding, sharing, and just plain awareness. 

We, as a United Way, are excited to see what positive impact it will continue to have. 

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