BackgroundThe coming-outprocess can be a critical time for families. When the adjustment period isparticularly long or painful, relationships can become permanently damaged,resulting in a lifetime of emotional scars. People cannot always rise above thechallenge of accepting themselves or their family member, and the results canbe devastating, even fatal. That’swhy in 1972 as Jeanne Manford marched through the streets of New York alongsideher son, she was approached by many gay, lesbian and transsexual persons beggingher to speak to their parents. Begging her to try to make them understand andaccept their sons and daughters as who they were. Jeanne would decide to starta support group, not just for gay, lesbian and transgendered persons but entirefamilies struggling to understand and support their loved ones. The firstmeeting of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) would take place onMarch 26th 1973 in New York with an attendance of roughly 20 people(Pflag USA 2017).
As time passed, news of this organization would spread acrossNorth America, and various chapters would pop up across the map. In 1991 inToronto Parents of Gays (POG) and Families & Friends of Gays and Lesbians(FFlag) would merge and would also name themselves PFLAG, a separate but verysimilar organization to PFLAG within the United States. However, thisdistinction would not come to full fruition until 2003, when PFLAG Canada wouldconsolidate over 70 different support groups for parents of Gays and Lesbians,and officially become PFLAG Canada. (PFLAG Canada 2017) PFLAG Canada is a national charitableorganization run by volunteers with over 60 chapters from coast to coast.Meetings are held monthly or bi-weekly depending on the city. These meetingsand support tools are designed to aid and reach PFLAG Canadas mission of ” promoting the health and well-beingof gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, intersex,queer and questioning persons, their families and friends through:Support, to cope with an adverse society, and Education, to enlighten anill-informed public in order to end discrimination and secure equal rights.
“(Canada Helps) Each different PFLAG affiliate is coordinated and facilitated bya community member within the localized LGBTQPAA community. Within Montreal thefacilitators of the PFLAG chapter are both based out of the Gender Advocacycenter on Concordia University’s campus. PFLAG Canada is governed by its boardof directors, a board that is nine members large and is responsible for theoversight and financial governance of the organization and its many affiliates(PFLAG Canada). The board of directorsis also responsible for ensuring its partners organizations are activelyfulfilling PFLAG Canada’s vision of “actively assisting in the recognition and growth of gay, lesbian, bisexual,transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, intersex, queer and questioning personsand their families and friends, within their diverse cultures and societies.” (CanadaHelps)Issues PFLAG iscontinuously working to build a greater support network for friends and familymembers of gay, lesbian, transgendered, two spirited, transsexual, intersex andqueer persons. This network of support and understanding is crucial inattempting to alleviate a multitude of issues facing the members of thesecommunities.
One of the litany of issuesfaced by members of this community is the issue of homelessness. According toThe homeless hub Canada, an estimated 25-40% of all homeless youth in Canadaare members of the LGBTQPAA community (The Homeless hub). However we must notethat this data is from a study conducted over fourteen years ago, and whilethere have been national studies conducted since, none of them have addressedthe issue of sexuality or gender identity.
While there have not been national gender/sexualitystudies conducted, there have been regional studies conducted such as inToronto where 20% of all homeless youth identify as a member of the LGBTQPAA community(The Homeless Hub). And as noted by the homeless hub we can estimate that thisnumber is actually much higher, as many youth did not choose to come out tovolunteers conducting the survey for fears of safety and potential “streetretribution”(The homeless hub). Manypeople attribute the higher homelessness rate amongst the members of theLGBTQPAA community due to homophobia and transphobia within the home as well aswithin the shelter system. With a higher rate of homelessness and difficultiesfinding employment, some Trans persons are forced to resort to sex work inorder to make some kind of money in order to simply survive, let alone begin toafford necessary medications and treatments to allow them to live as they feelthey should.
As noted by Cecilia Benoit in her 2015 work “Sex Work in Canada” Benoit notes that “There are no accurate estimates of the gender breakdown of sex workers.Most research indicates the sex industry is highly gendered, with the overwhelmingmajority of sex workers identifying as women (including both cisgendered and Transwomen)” As well Benoit also notes that “trans people, and trans women inparticular, are at greater risk of violence compared to cisgendered workers –that is, those whose biological sex and gender identity are the same. This isbecause working in the sex industry can compound the stigma and discriminationthat many Trans people already experience within Canadian society.
For example,one study has suggested that sex buyers who do not intentionally want topurchase sexual services from a Trans person may feel “duped” if and when theyrealize. Some of these sex buyers may respond aggressively and/or violently”(Benoit, 2015). From 1991-2014 there were over 294 reported homicides ofconfirmed sex workers, which represents 2% of all homicides during that timeframe, with 57% of those homicides being directly attributed to the victimsrole as a sex worker ( Statistics Canada). As of this time there is no dataregarding LGBTQPAA rates in sex work or homicide rates, the closest data setthat can be correlated is from the Trans Murder Monitoring Project, which onlylists one murder of a Trans person in Canada from October 2016- September 2017.
The murder would occur in the Montreal village of Pointe St Charles, as Transsex worker Sisi Thibert would lose her life in in September of 2017 (Paling2017). There are alsonumerous issues facing LGBTQPAA persons within the healthcare community.Studies show that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and (LGBT) populations,in addition to having the same basic health needs as the general population,experience health disparities and barriers related to sexual orientation and/orgender identity. Many avoid or delay care or receive inappropriate or inferiorcare because of perceived or real homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, anddiscrimination by health care providers and institutions. Homophobia in medicalpractice is a reality. A 1998 survey of nursing students showed that 8–12%”despised” lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people, 5–12% found them”disgusting,” and 40–43% thought LGB people should keep their sexualityprivate.
(Gay and Lesbian Medical Association)Policy With homelessrates statistically higher than their Cisgendered counterparts, coupled withsocial stigmas and fear of violence, it is clear that early intervention musttake place in order to assist both the youth of the LGBTQPAA community, as wellas their friends and families. It is during this crucial stage of a youth’slife where PFLAG and its subsidiary chapters seek to accomplish the bulk oftheir mission and vision. As a volunteerorganization PFLAG does not make decisions as an entire entity, however theyallow each of their subsidiary PFLAG chapters, to operate relativelyautonomously, only intervening in the event of mismanagement or more extremecircumstances. This autonomy allows each grassroots chapter dictate whatpositions it may take or advocate on behalf of in regards to social orpolitical issues.
As well PFLAG does not generate its own research, however itrelies upon its vast support network, from grassroots organizations toprofessors of sociology and gender studies to generate research and informationregarding pressing issues facing the LGBTQPAA community. PLFAG will then takethis information and research gathered by its vast network to create variousworkshops that take place outside of PFLAG’s regular monthly meetings. Theseworkshops are tailored to specific groups, such as parents, educators, studentsor communities as a whole (PFLAG Toronto). As well, PFLAG is not affiliatedwith any ethnic, political or religious organization, however they do providelinks to such organizations on their main PFLAG website, as they believe suchorganizations may be able to provide the necessary support a LGBTQPAA communitymember or their family may require at that time.
(PFLAG Canada) Strategies PFLAGCanada is Canada’s only nationalorganization that offers peer-to-peer support striving to help all Canadianswith issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.Through their network of 60+ grassroots PFLAG support chapters and associatedpartners, they seek to strengthen the bond between parent and child, as well asto provide resources both to youth and parents struggling with gender identityor sexual orientation. PFLAG was founded to aid parents and children strugglingwith sexual identity, however over time PFLAG has evolved and now has nospecific set population that they target to help, as almost everyone now hassomeone of LGBTQPAA identity in their lives or within their sphere of being.
The issues facing persons of the LGBTQPAA community are ones that permeatethroughout society and affect us as a whole, from homelessness, difficulty ofaccess to health services and even increased rates of violence. These areissues that can affect all Canadians. PFLAGoperates with no ethnic, political or religious affiliations; however, theyhave formed coalitions of support networks with organizations that fall underthese categories, such as the United Church of Canada or the Gay BuddhistFellowship (PFLAG Canada). As well PFLAG has also partnered with other LGBTQPAAorganizations, research institutions and healthcare providers. Examples ofthese organizations include the Canadian rainbow Health coalition, Gay andlesbian Association of Retiring Persons, QMUNITY, The Canadian Online Journalfor Queer Studies in Education, Canadian Aids society and the Halifax SexualHealth Center. (PFLAG Canada) Media RelationsAs one of the first LGBTQPAAorganizations within Canada, PFLAG Canada has been able to create a vast mediaprofile. One of their more compelling media outlets is their wide selection ofpersonal stories that they are able to share though their various social mediaaccounts (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube).
By sharing personal stories, andputting faces behind the stories is a compelling tool to encourage others toshare their experiences and realize that whatever issues they may be facingthey are not alone, others have faced similar struggles and not only survivedbut prospered. Stories come from persons from all walks of life and withdifferent orientations, ethnicities and religious beliefs, showing thatLGBTQPAA issues affect all members of the community regardless.With over 60+ chapters of PFLAGCanada operating autonomously, has allowed various chapters to produce theirown educational material and briefs. Such as the case of PFLAG Toronto which inconjunction with Central Toronto Youth Services would publish “Families in Transition:A resource guide for Families of Transgender Youth” (PFLAG Toronto). Byallowing chapters to operate autonomously, PFLAG has given more power to theirvast volunteer network. Meetings are facilitated by the organizationsvolunteers and are not required to follow any specific form or mandate; thisallows more freedom within meetings to provide specific aid to participants. PFLAG has also lent its name tovarious educational resources such as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Associationspublication of “Guidelines for care ofLesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Patients”(Gay and Lesbian MedicalAssociation 2016) This informative 35 page document provides health careproviders with a sample of guidelines when dealing with LGBTQPAA patients.
Within the publication issues such as creating a welcoming health careenvironment, language, staff sensitivity, suggested questions for LGBTQPAAhealthcare forms and additional considerations for physicians when dealing withWomen, Men and Trans. An example that can be taken from this resource is anissue that will be explored and discussed further during the LGBTQPAA panel. Isthe issue of how to assess and pose questions to Trans persons. Examplesinclude, not assuming heterosexuality, or the understanding that discussinggenitalia or sex acts may be complicated by the person’s disassociation withtheir outward appearance and this can make conversation particularity sensitiveor stressful to someone seeking medical care. It is imperative that medicalpractitioners fully understand the sensitivity of certain issues that may ariseduring routine medical care, as a perceived or actual lack of sensitivity canbe the difference between someone returning to seek medical care, or lettingissues linger and develop into conditions that are more serious. Critical AssessmentHomophobia andTransphobia has been a constant social issue, encompassing generations andtearing apart families. In manyinstances homosexuality and transsexuality is a very sensitive topic withinfamilies and many are not willing to talk about their issues publically.
Thesensitivity of these internal family issues is an issue PFLAG takes veryseriously, meetings are advertised through local LGBTQPAA channels, howeverinformation is not widely disseminated to the public through social mediacampaigns or email blasts as in the case of other organizations. Allinformation shared such as stories or testimonials remain anonymous unlessotherwise directed so by the person sharing. As one ofCanada’s first LGBTQPAA support organizations, PFLAG has been one of theleading organizations when it comes to family relationships. While the majorityof work is done by PFLAG’s 60+ grassroots chapters, its national chapter leavesa lot to be desired. As LGBTQPAA issues continue to become a larger part of oursocial consciousness, PFLAG Canada should be one of the forefront organizationssupporting these communities.
By building a strong home life and parentalsupport system, PFLAG has the opportunity to directly impact the rates ofhomeless LGBTQPAA youth. Which is why it is surprising that the organization isnot more vocal when it comes to homelessness, or the potential results fromhomelessness such as sex-work. They have a large grassroots support systembehind them, as well as various partners doing work in other social circles,such as the Canadian Aids society, the united church of Canada, or aspreviously mentioned the Central Toronto Youth Services.
When policy isreleased, or new data is released by statistics Canada, PFLAG has theopportunity to call upon its vast network of support organizations and directvolunteers to provide input and create public dialogue surrounding theseissues. As society continues to change and evolve in its core beliefs orunderstanding of others, it is crucial that PFLAG uses both its name andnetwork to lend support to large national issues facing members of the LGBTQPAAcommunity. As notedthroughout this evaluation the communities targeted by PFLAG are now known asLGBTQPAA, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Questioning, Poly andAllies. Since its inception in the early 1990’s society and those living withinthe targeted communities by PFLAG have evolved, and so too should the name ofthe organization. Parents for Lesbians and Gays is no longer an encompassingterm that would make all feel welcome, will someone who is transgender feelwelcome? What about those who have no sexual interest in others? While this mayseem like a minor detail to those outside of the LGBTQPAA community, for thosewho are directly affected through the ” coming out” process and the resultingfamily implications, a name can make all the difference between feelingwelcomed and empowered or unwelcome and powerless. Conclusion PFLAGis one of Canada’s leading support organizations for the LGBTQPAA.
Throughtheir work they have created over 60+ grassroots organizations dedicated toeducation and supporting both parents and youth dealing with issues related tosexuality and gender identity. Through partnerships with organizations andeducators they have been able to create and publish various resource guides andsupport tools for parents and youth. However there is still work to be done todestigmatize LGBTQPAA persons, so they do not continue to face mounting issuessuch as increasing homelessness, violence and sexual fetishization. While PFLAGand its allies continue to work towards ending these societal issues, thosewithin the Cisgendered community should take it upon themselves to be the finalA in LGBTQPAA and truly become Allies to our fellow human beings.