In 2022, Bissell Centre took a long hard look at itself and asked what can be a scary question – what are our 2SLGBTQIA+ team and community members experiencing here? What does Pride at Bissell look like? Are these folks being embraced and celebrated? Are they comfortable being their truest selves here?
41 team members participated in a survey focused on 2SLGBTQIA+ issues – 12 from 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. The results of the survey were promising, and a lot of organizations would take that as a sweeping success and end their efforts there. Instead, we wondered how best to push our organization even further.
Through the results of this survey, summer intern J. Heber looked at the qualitative stats, thought about how they represented the diverse 2SLGBTQIA+ presence at Bissell Centre, and created a fibre art piece to represent that diversity across the organizations.
It is an expression of all the different flags and colours that express the different gender identities and sexual orientations that makeup Pride. Today, it proudly hangs in our Community Space. It stands as a reminder to folks that our diversity is our strength, and inclusion is essential. It also features seeds and the words, “Let’s Grow Together,” demonstrating the seeds of compassion and the thirst for knowledge that helps us all better understand and appreciate one another.
We’re going to let our 2SLGBTQIA+ staff members speak for themselves. Exploring, in their own words, how Bissell Centre is working to improve equity for 2SLGBTQIA+ folks, what their experiences have been like at Bissell, and what Pride month means to them.
Bissell Centre gives out free rainbow stickers to everyone. I want to point this out first and foremost. It’s the first thing I think about when I think about how Bissell Centre is a safe space.
I joined Bissell Centre in 2020, and I wasn’t sure if I should be open about my gender identity. I saw a lot of staff here be comfortable and open and safe with who they are. Everyone here makes the effort to use my preferred pronouns (he/him) – and anyone who mistakenly uses the wrong pronouns is quick to apologize and correct it. That makes me feel respected and cared for by Bissell Centre.
Especially compared to my home country, Bissell Centre is welcoming to who I truly am. Here, I get to show my Pride without shame or any fear. I get to be open, and that’s important not just for me but for anyone who wants to express their Pride.
Even our community participants treat 2SLGCTQIA+ people with respect and equality. No one ever has anything negative to say about the clothes we choose, how we present, or how we choose to look according to our gender identity. Having this freedom and acceptance is so important for 2SLGBTQIA+ folks and how we can contribute back to our communities.
When I was placed at Bissell Centre for my social work practicum, I was nervous about entering a new space. Being a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, I am always wary when entering a new space. I don’t know if it’s safe, if I will be harassed or if I can truly be myself.
I remember about a month into my practicum, I mentioned how I noticed there wasn’t really any noticeable visual representation to let new staff and community members know that Bissell is a queer-friendly space. So, we came up with the idea for me to create a 2SLGBTQIA+ resource list for both staff and community members.
Then, I started noticing pride flag stickers placed on doors and laptops. My supervisor told me because I had the courage to identify the gap between Bissell and the queer community, she ordered gender-neutral bathroom signs for the bathrooms in the Community Space. I couldn’t believe that I was a catalyst for these changes. Bissell Centre is not just another group that celebrates pride once a year. They listen to the concerns people have and do what they can to improve.
The community members make Bissell Centre different too. I often get comments that I give off two-spirit energy. I learned that two-spirit folks in Indigenous culture are sacred, which makes me feel honoured. I don’t currently identify as two-spirit – the community members made me curious, and I have since been exploring that side of myself. Because the community members and the staff have created a judgment-free space, it has allowed me to safely be my true self.