Building Positive Spaces in your organization

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tamaisha
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Joined: 2013-04-17

Feel free to ask questions about building positive spaces in your organziation

Erin
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Joined: 2013-06-27
Responding to "organizational values"
As a starting point, consult your agency's statement of mission, values, and objectives. This is what you have to work with. Look for terms such as "anti-oppression," "diversity," "inclusion," "accessibility," "equity," "participation," and so forth. These can and should be broadly interpreted to include LGBTQ+ newcomers, whether clients, staff, volunteers, Board members, or anyone else. Also look for mention of "human rights," and use the Ontario Human Rights Code (or whatever the applicable human rights legislation is in your jurisdiction) as a model to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protected grounds. If your agency mandate says anything about assisting newcomers to settle and integrate into Canadian society, to develop marketable skills and cultural competency, and/or protecting refugees, all of these can be interpreted both to support LGBTQ+ newcomers AND to educate ALL of your clients on human rights legislation and social norms here in Canada. Basically, look at how your existing organizational values and objectives can be interpreted in the context of creating Positive Spaces, and use these as building blocks. As you continue the change process, I strongly recommend that you modify your existing policies to explicitly include LGBTQ+ newcomers in order to avoid misinterpretation or omission in the future. The Ontario Human Rights Code has a document on Developing Human Rights Policies and Procedures that is very useful during this process. You can find it on either the OHRC website or on the Positive Spaces website here http://positivespaces.ca/toolkit/policy
Erin
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Joined: 2013-06-27
In response to "supporting allies"
You can support allies through words and through actions. Tell an ally that you agree with their position, that you would also like to see positive change in the organization, and that you would like to work together to make that change. You can provide emotional support and debriefing to one another, as well as brainstorming and strategizing together around how to make change. Work as a TEAM. It may be beneficial to explore through conversation what fears exist, what kinds of resistance you are likely to encounter, and how you can dispel those fears and overcome that resistance. Please note that in many cases, there ends up being one person who it ALWAYS falls upon to speak up (such as the only out LGBTQ+ person, or the person who is most committed to anti-oppression and human rights), and if that one person does not speak up, then nothing is said. It can get mighty lonely and exhausting being that one lone voice in the wilderness. So when you see a situation and you feel that someone should speak up about it, don't just leave it to that one same person to do it again and again - try speaking up yourself. Even if you're not entirely sure what to say, you can start with, "Something about this just isn't sitting right with me." More than likely that person will support you in it, and YOUR support of THEM will likely refresh their own energy and commitment. Finally, remember that you can find allies in the most unlikely places. I once did a workshop in an agency where almost everybody was very strongly religious, in a religion that is notoriously homophobic, and the workshop included a large component on LGBTQ+ youth, bullying, and suicide. After the workshop, participants were flocking up to me, including older adults in full religious garb, asking me, "What else can we do to support our gay youth?" My own learning from that workshop was a reminder to check MY assumptions at the door!
Erin
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Joined: 2013-06-27
Responding to "overcoming resistance to change"
When a service provider says "We can't emphasize one particular group," that is a form of resistance in disguise, often rooted in homo/bi/transphobia. If a person says that to you, ask them what services the agency presently offers, and who the target service users are. Perhaps the agency has programming specifically for youth, or for women, or for women experiencing violence, or for pregnant and new parents, or for seniors, or for refugee claimants, or a peer support group that is conducted in Tamil or Mandarin or French or any language whatsoever. ALL of these types of programs emphasize one particular group. In fact, settlement agencies by definition emphasize a particular group - newcomers. MOST organizations identify target service users and design policies, programming, and services to meet the needs of those service users. Once this fact has been recognized, ask the resistant person to explain why those target service user groups have been identified and targeted as such. If the person can explain the unique needs of those groups, that is a short hop over to the unique needs of LGBTQ+ people. It is important to note that LGBTQ+ newcomers can have the SAME needs as any other newcomers in terms of housing, employment, education, language training, emotional support, etc. - the difference is in the WAY that those services are provided (for example, finding housing in a place where they will not be at risk of homo/bi/transphobic harassment or violence), and sometimes additional support may be required around issues that crop up as a result of homo/bi/transphobia and cis/heterosexism in society. Settlement service providers are mandated to provide respectful, relevant, and effective service to ALL newcomers, regardless of the service provider's personal beliefs, and regardless of assumptions projected onto other community members. Please note as well that settlement agencies have a responsibility to communicate to, and model for, their clients what is acceptable, appropriate, and standard behaviour, language, and practices in Canada, and that includes working in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Act by including and respecting LGBTQ+ people. You are NOT doing your other clients a favour by leading them to believe that homo/bi/transphobic discrimination is acceptable in Canadian society, when engaging in such behaviour could very well end up with them losing their jobs and/or having human rights complaints filed against them.
neil macdonald
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Joined: 2013-12-11
oranizational values
A very interesting recommendation raised during the webinar on a Systems Approach to [LGBT] Positive Spaces was to look at some of the already existing and positive organizational values, which support the continued building of an LGBT-positive space. Any further thoughts or even examples of this?
Erin
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Joined: 2013-06-27
Responding to "inclusive service" question
As you identified with the inclusive language and rainbow symbols, environmental cues are the first messages to a client upon walking in the door. Other environmental cues can include displaying LGBTQ+ resources (including services and programming specifically designed for LGBTQ+ people, clearly stating that ALL your programs and services are LGBTQ+ inclusive, and having links/pamphlets displayed for LGBTQ+ organizations), having inclusive intake forms (such as ones that allow for Intersex, Trans, Genderqueer, Two Spirit, Prefer Not to Disclose, and fill-in-the-blank _______ in addition to Female and Male checkboxes), having clear anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies that explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protected grounds (and communicating this verbally upon intake as well as having it posted in the reception area), and having an accessible washroom that is clearly marked as open to ALL genders (not both, ALL). With any of these cues, it is important to take into consideration the variety of languages that your clients speak, the literacy levels of your clients in various languages, and any disabilities they may have. For these reasons, it is very important to communicate all messages in a variety of languages and formats so that the information is accessible to everyone. Consider your OWN language - are you saying "husband/boyfriend" or "wife/girlfriend" or are you using gender-neutral language like "partner?" Are you using respectful, correct terminology, or are you using hurtful slang and slurs? What assumptions do you find yourself making, and how can you check yourself on them? Do other people find you approachable? How do you ensure confidentiality, and how do you reassure your clients of it? Your own language and behaviour are themselves a big part of environmental cues, as are policy, procedures, and available programming.
neil macdonald
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Joined: 2013-12-11
Overcoming "resistance to change"
In relation to the thorough list of possible reasons for "resistance to change" included in your webinar on a Systems Approach to [LGBT] Positive Spaces, such as fearing disapproval from the larger community and 'we can't emphasize one particular group', do you have any examples of responses to these and ways that these were overcome by a settlement agency?
Erin
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Joined: 2013-06-27
A metaphor
One time about 25 years ago, my dad was trying to convince his workplace to build a wheelchair ramp. They resisted, saying "We don't have any clients or employees who use a wheelchair." ...Well, of COURSE they didn't, because people with wheelchairs couldn't get in the door! Creating Positive Spaces in your workplace is like building a metaphorical wheelchair ramp - if you make the space accessible, people will come. Either people will come in the door who wouldn't enter at all before, OR, people who ALREADY use the space may feel comfortable to share information with you that they were not comfortable sharing before.
Erin
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Joined: 2013-06-27
Migrating to escape persecution based on sexuality or gender
It is also important to note that many LGBTQ+ newcomers come to Canada specifically to escape homophobic / biphobic / transphobic persecution, because Canada presently has some of the strongest laws in the world to protect the human rights of LGBTQ+ people. However, the cultural climate in Canada is not always up to par with the strength of our human rights laws, and that can be very disappointing for LGBTQ+ newcomers who came here with an image of Canada as a very open, accepting, and safe place, and whose personal experiences upon arrival don't always match up with that image.
Erin
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Joined: 2013-06-27
Responding to "There are no LGBT individuals in my community"
This is actually something that comes up quite a lot in this work. When OCASI started doing consultations with newcomers and service providers at the beginning of this project, we heard a lot of "We don't have any LGBTQ clients" or "There are no LGBTQ people in my community." However, LGBTQ+ newcomers often expressed their frustration at being unable to share this part of themselves with their family, community, or settlement agency. They tended not to share this part of themselves, or to "come out" as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, etc. because they were unsure what kind of reaction they would receive, or because they thought they would receive a negative response. This is EXACTLY why building a Positive Space, maintaining it as a Positive Space ALL the time, and being clear about communicating that, is soooooo important! Invite your colleagues to think about what some common views and attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people are in their community. Ask them to think about, if THEY themselves were gay, how would their community respond? If they think that their community would not accept them, or if they are unsure, ask them how willing they would be to tell those people that they were gay - knowing that in some cases, it could mean exclusion, isolation, "shaming" the family, getting kicked out of one's home, even being at risk of physical violence. For many LGBTQ+ newcomers, those risks are too much to be worth taking, and so they continue to hide their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in order to prevent those negative responses.
neil macdonald
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Joined: 2013-12-11
supporting allies

In relation to our supportive colleagues/allies who may feel hesitant/nervous to bring up and discuss LGBT newcomer issues within a multi-cultural environment and with colleagues from diverse backgrounds, how do we best support these allies and what do we say?

neil macdonald
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Joined: 2013-12-11
inclusive service
In addition to inclusive language and rainbow symbols, what other ways can you suggest to help allow a client feel comfortable to disclose his or her sexual orientation and/or gender identity? Also, same question but particularly for a client who may be transgendered?
tamaisha
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Joined: 2013-04-17
Helping colleagues & staff understand issues

What would you suggest as the most constructive/educational response(s) to a settlement colleague who states/believes that there are no LGBT individuals within his or her specific immigrant and/or ethnic community?


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