Photo by Tristan Billet on Unsplash
This June marks 50 years since the Stonewall riots, and 50 years of global Pride celebrations. Pride is all about recognizing and celebrating the contributions of LGBTQ people, communities and organizations.
As a therapist and social worker, I have been privileged to work extensively with and for queer people. I realize that, because it’s been such an integral part of my experience, I often take this knowledge, learning, and mentorship for granted—so, this Pride, I’d like to take a moment to recognize and share some lessons I have learned about resilience, courage and strength from my LGBTQ clients and colleagues.
Happy Pride to our queer clients, colleagues, and friends!
1. Creativity Breaks Down Walls and Builds Empathy
During my Master’s, I did a placement at The 519, a community centre in Toronto focused on serving the city’s LGBTQ communities. One of the coolest things that I noticed at The 519 was how well the organization used arts and creativity to communicate. It took me a while to understand why and how this was so effective, but then it dawned on me one day, while watching a theatre production about the experiences of queer refugees coming to Canada—creativity is all about self-expression, and authentic self-expression builds empathy, understanding, and respect between people.
Queer people have done an amazing job of using creativity and self-expression to build cultural space and dialogue around the issues that affect them. And these cultural conversations benefit everyone.
2. If We Want to Build Wellbeing, We Need to Fight Stigma and Shame
Years ago, when I was first starting my career, I worked in an HIV awareness, advocacy and service organization in Ottawa called Bruce House. Bruce House was born out of the HIV pandemic, a social crisis that rocked the LGBTQ community through the 80s and 90s, and continues to disproportionately affect queer people.
There was so much I learned from my time at Bruce House, but I think the biggest lesson was this—shame and stigma are the #1 enemies of wellbeing. I often saw clients arrive at the organization with very little social support and connection; I can’t count the numbers of people who told me that the experience of being socially ostracized for their illness was much worse than the illness itself. Once they became involved and connected, however, and had a place to talk about their experiences and feel belonging, their health and wellbeing improved dramatically.
And you know what folks almost always wanted to do with that extra energy? Give back and help others. This was an amazing positive cycle for a young social worker like myself to see—and it all started with removing shame and stigma, so that belonging could happen.
3. You Have to Celebrate the Wins
We’ve made incredible strides in the past 50 years, but LGBTQ people still face a huge amount of discrimination and violence worldwide. In Ontario, we continue to have disturbingly high rates of mental health distress among queer people, especially young queer people. It’s important not to lose sight of the additional burden of isolation, fear, and exclusion that queer people too often face in our communities–but it’s equally important to celebrate and focus on what is getting better because this will give you the strength to keep going.
In my mid20s, I spent several years working in a newcomer youth centre. Most of our clients were living in vulnerable situations, and many of them were queer. My colleague Kira and I started an intergenerational support group where we invited older LGBTQ people to come and talk about their lives. These conversations were so touching, and so powerful—it gave everyone hope to hear about how the LGBTQ movements had fought and won so many battles that had seemed impossible. We ended up having to find a bigger room, the support group became so popular! Our clients were often living in very precarious and stressful situations, but they would consistently tell us that these conversations gave them the strength to keep going.