LGBT Inclusivity at The Good Companions Centre

The Good Companions Centre (TGC) has been working on LGBT-inclusivity for a number of years.

The majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) seniors over 65 have lived most of their lives in an environment of overt discrimination and hostility. For many, it was impossible to be themselves and to feel safe.  Here in Ottawa in the 1950’s, gays and lesbians were victims of ‘witch hunts’ designed to ‘root out homosexuals’ in the armed forces and civil service.

Indeed, until Pierre Trudeau made his famous “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation” speech in 1969, it was a criminal offence to be gay in Canada. Trudeau introduced an omnibus bill that, when passed, removed homosexuality from the Criminal Code. But it wasn’t until 1986 that changes were made to the Ontario Human Rights Code to give basic human rights protection to lesbians and gays. Transgender folks had to wait until June of 2012 for similar legislation to be enacted in Ontario.

At a time in their lives where they require services and programs, many LGBT seniors report heightened fear and anxiety should they disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to service providers.

Fortunately, times are changing. Back in 2008, the TGC Community Support Services team discovered a gap in service access/equity while working on the Reaching Out to Isolated Seniors (ROTIS) pilot project. We found that LGBT seniors in the catchment area tended not to access seniors’ services and were, definitely, more isolated than heterosexual seniors.

In 2012, The Good Companions took a huge leap forward by volunteering to be part of a brand new project … the LGBT Cultural Competency Project funded by United Way. The project was a partnership between Centretown Community Health Centre, Ottawa Senior Pride Network, and the Ottawa Community Support Coalition. A community developer hired by Centretown Community Health Centre, worked part-time with us at The Good Companions from July of 2012 until the end of May 2013 to help us begin the process of organizational change to LGBT cultural competency.

Organizational change is a process and it takes time. A committee was formed to  look at ways we could better provide an LGBT-welcoming environment and LGBT-inclusive programs and services. Accomplishments include:

  • Unanimous Board support for the project; and specific approval to change all TGC forms, policies and procedures, and manuals to be LGBT-inclusive
  • Verbal support of the initiative through our Members’ Executive, Management and staff at the Centre
  • Preparation of ‘LGBT Cultural Competency at The Good Companions’, a document to help guide the Board and staff during the project and into the future
  • LGBT awareness and sensitivity training for all staff, volunteers, Board members and interested members/clients of TGC
  • The number of LGBT seniors who became members of TGC increased significantly
  • Implementation of Seniors Helping Seniors, a project with the Community Support Services team that trains LGBT senior volunteers and then matches them with isolated seniors, including LGBT clients
  • Offering space at TGC for LGBT seniors events like the Vintage Queers Dance, line dancing, and other programming specific to LGBT seniors

Our official involvement with the LGBT cultural competence project ended June 1, 2013. However, The Good Companions is committed to continuing to respond to the needs of the senior LGBT community and to ongoing education annually. We will continue to make our services accessible and welcoming to ALL seniors in Ottawa.