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Windsor Family Health Team creates a safe space of belonging for exploring gender identity
Heavy news coverage about Caitlyn Jenner legally being declared a woman helped to raise awareness about the struggles of people who are transgendered. This is needed. But Jenner’s journey is very different from other Trans and LGBT people. Very few enjoy the privileges that come with Jenner’s fame and wealth.
In fact, an Ontario-based study found that bisexual and Trans people are overrepresented among low-income Canadians with over half living on less than $15,000 a year. This is in spite of the fact that a high percentage of Trans people in Ontario have post-secondary education. For Trans people, the struggle for equity also continues in other important spheres including; mental health and wellbeing, discrimination and violence, and community belonging.
Programs addressing these areas are an urgent need in Ontario. In a Trans Pulse research project survey 77% of Trans people responded that they had seriously considered suicide and 45% responded that they had already attempted it. Sadly, Trans youth and those who had experienced physical or sexual assault were found to be at greatest risk.
For these reasons, back in 2012 the Windsor Family Health Team began a program called: Gender Journeys, an eight week series of sessions for people exploring gender identities. It focuses on questions of transgender myths, stereotypes and supporting people exploring gender identities in their personal struggles.
“Gender Journeys was created because there were minimal services for the Trans community,” says Paula Cole who has been a social worker at the Windsor Family Health Team for the past seven years. “Our goal was to offer a safe space for anyone in our community questioning or exploring their gender identity and expression.”
Modelled after the successful Gender Journeys Program at Sherbourne Health Centre, the major objective is to foster a sense of belonging in participants. The program works by creating opportunities for self-reflection, personal sharing, journaling and connecting with other Trans people. This last point is important as public health reports that people with adequate social relationships have 50% lower risk of death than those with poor or insufficient relationships.
And for those attending, the program really can be a lifeline; a way to connect, grow, increase confidence and gain access to resources.
"From the Gender Journey’s program I learned that it’s ok to speak up and be myself, that support is out there,” says Rose, a participant in the program (whose name was changed for safety reasons). “But the most important thing that I learned is that you are not alone.”
The Windsor Family Health Team provides services and programs, like Gender Journeys, that are inspired by the Model of Health and Wellbeing. Like other members of the Association of Ontario Health Centres, they focus on health equity, social justice, meeting the unique needs of marginalized populations in an anti-oppressive and culturally safe environment. These conditions are the building blocks of vital communities.