As a weary planet is dragged through yet another month of deadly COVID-19 and resulting far-reaching restrictions, Niagara’s sexual- and gender-diverse community is coping as best it can to keep the rainbow shining.
Following recommendations and demands from local, provincial and federal health officials, many events have been postponed or outright cancelled. But in a salute to resilience, everything from social meetups to board meetings to peer-support meetings are taking place virtually. People are being forced to overcome resistance or unfamiliarity with new communications technology, or risk being left out of community-building conversations.
Niagara’s 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations, groups and individuals are working hard to reduce the very real threat of increased isolation and emotional hardship. As in any disaster response– and the pandemic is unquestionably a disaster — they are providing insight, information, experience, networking, and resource advice.
The board of OUTniagara has continued to meet monthly via videoconferencing. Committee members and task forces have been carrying out their obligations to complete the organization’s objectives as fully as possible, including applying for several grants that would further support and showcase the sexual- and gender-diverse community.
OUTniagara has registered for a Zoom account that is being offered to Niagara’s 2SLGBTQIA+ community for virtual meetups, workshops, group activities, committee meetings and support groups during the pandemic while everyone is isolated. Groups may register their events through the OUTniagara website and receive the login information.
To find out more about OUTniagara, please go to www.outniagara.ca
Pride Niagara, despite having to cancel many of its activities because of large-group restrictions, including its flagship Pride in the Park in St. Catharines, will hold its annual Unity Awards online. It has also been posting important mental health messages on its Facebook page.
Quest Community Health Centre in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls Community Health Centre are planning a virtual talent show in place of Pride Prom and are also exploring some other virtual events throughout the summer. The two centres are holding many of their groups over the phone or online. NFCHC’s queer and trans youth group is held over Instagram at @niagarafallschc. Quest is offering its monthly trans/gender questioning youth group via Zoom. Interested youth can reach out at 905-688-2558, ext. 222, by cell 905-380-4576 (can text as well), or at email@example.com
Niagara Regional Gay Men’s Group was already well positioned before the virus’s impact truly began to be felt. Chat groups with Messenger and text, such as the movie group, trivia group, isolation chat, theatre chat and dinner chat, were already up and running.
“As well, we’ve connected with other members and encourage our members to check on each other, particularly the most vulnerable guys who struggle with substance and mental health issues,” says Scott Sauder, the lead administrator. Co-adminstrators are Glenn Ashenhurst, Gary Dekker, and Marcel Grimard.
The group also has a Facebook page, which is the name of the group, Niagara Regional Gay Men’s Group, and it can be reached by email at NRGMG@cogeco.ca
“Stay safe, stay home, stay well,” says Sauder. “Reach out! No one has to be alone in isolation. All chats are welcome until we can all be together again at our weekly meetups Mondays and Wednesdays.”
Another group that is trying hard to keep the community connected is the Niagara Region LGBTQ+ Women’s Group. Founded on May 15, 2017 by Ada Smith-Sparling, the group is a welcoming space for all members of Niagara’s sexual- and gender-diverse community, including allies.
Smith-Sparling has maintained the connection between members through a weekly meetup on Skype, and through daily Facebook posts that urge members to share their everyday photos. Once pandemic restrictions are lifted, the group will resume face-to-face gatherings, events, and fundraising efforts to make the group more accessible.
Kyle’s Place, which is based out of Hamilton and also serves Niagara, has risen to the call of supporting the trans community. In April, the organization fundraised for basic supplies for its members. It also arranged much-needed drop-offs of groceries, pet food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, gender gear-gaffs, breast forms, binders, soft packs, hormone supplies or assistance in paying for hormones. The organization is also happy to call, Facebook video/message, Zoom or Skype for friendly check-ins. For support, email firstname.lastname@example.org
When historians review this period years from now, they’ll conclude that in Niagara, the 2SLGBTQIA+ response to the pandemic was one that would fill anyone, well, with pride.