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A Dedicated Safe Space for Powell River’s Trans Community

This small city has a robust trans community. Trans qathet advocates for their inclusion. A Tyee Q&A.

Katie Hyslop 17 May 2023TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop is a reporter for The Tyee. Reach them by email.

With just under 0.5 per cent of the population identifying as trans or non-binary in the last census, Powell River has one of the largest per capita trans and non-binary populations in British Columbia — even higher than Vancouver.

Laurance Playford-Beaudet doesn’t know exactly why the census agglomeration for Powell River, which includes the city and outlying rural mainland areas and has a population of just under 18,000 people, made it into the top 15 highest trans populations in Canada.

But the regional co-ordinator of Trans qathet, the peer resource and support group for the trans community in the qathet Regional District, has a few guesses.

“The cost of living is lower than other coastal areas, so that attracts people in general. And Powell River and the qathet area has a pride society, and from the outside it looks like quite a welcoming place,” he said.

Although the census was not out yet, the city’s transgender population may be why Lift Community Services, which operates Trans qathet, got grant funding from Trans Care BC to create a trans peer support program in May 2021.

“When the people at Lift Community Services were applying for the grant from Trans Care BC, they spoke to 12 to 14 people and families who lived in qathet that either were trans or supporting a trans loved one,” said Playford-Beaudet, who is one of four part-time employees at Trans qathet.

“They did a couple years of research before getting the grant to start the program.”

The program includes hosting events, support groups and drop-in hours in their space in Powell River’s Town Centre mall. But they also provide workshops to help local organizations, from private businesses to public service providers, better serve transgender people on the northern Sunshine Coast.

Welcoming all ages and genders to their space, Playford-Beaudet estimates Trans qathet regularly serves about 35 people in the region, ranging in age from teenagers to senior citizens. They have also conducted over a dozen trans-inclusivity workshops for local organizations.

Earlier this month The Tyee spoke with Playford-Beaudet over Zoom about what supports Trans qathet provides, the challenges trans people may face in rural B.C. that they don’t in cities, and why Trans qathet never delivers the same workshop twice.

The Tyee: How do you define trans?

Laurance Playford-Beaudet: Very important definition, and we reiterate this in our supports because we're not exclusive. The definition of a trans person is anyone who has a gender identity different than their sex assigned at birth. Regardless of their name, history, gender expression, how they appear or what pronouns they use.

What role is Trans qathet filling for people?

There was no dedicated safe space for trans and gender diverse people to gather and meet each other. A lot of what we create is facilitating that to happen.

Two days a week we have drop-in hours at our office, and we also have special events and peer support groups. Right now, we're running peer groups two to three times a month. People who grew up or are currently living in the qathet Regional District come together and just talk about their experiences living in this small town.

Sometimes it's solution-based conversations, and from these conversations we've worked to reach out to local organizations and correct some non-inclusive policies, behaviour, staff, things like that, where we have the capacity.

Our priority is really peer support. But where we can we do some education with a focus on local organizations in the community. So for instance, the library, a supportive housing building, the credit union — all took a workshop with us.

Are these organizations that come to you? Or do people who use Trans qathet bring up their non-inclusive experiences with these organizations and suggest offering them a workshop?

It's a bit of both. Some organizations have approached us and some we have strongly suggested that their staff take a workshop with us.

Do you know of any similar programs in other rural regions in B.C.?

There are some similar programs. I feel like this is one of the more rural trans-specific peer groups. Trans Connect in the Kootenays is a really great program. I've met some of the folks who ran it and we have had similar challenges and successes. Sometimes we collaborate on ideas.

What are some of those successes and challenges?

One of the successes that I go back to when I'm having challenges with running this program is just the general response from the community we're working in. People have reached out and said that they're so grateful just knowing that this program exists here.

And youth have said that they wanted to leave qathet, to move away to the big city as soon as possible just to get out of the small town. But that Trans qathet being here makes them want to stay.

Sometimes it's really hard to feel like we're having an impact or an influence because we work with limited hours. We don't see everyone every week. We do a lot of smaller events, so it doesn't feel like we have this huge impact. But I think the impact that we've had in the community is immeasurable. Just existing as a program feels like a success in its own way.

What are some of the issues facing trans people in rural B.C. that they wouldn't necessarily face in more urban areas?

Rural areas have a lot fewer supports and resources in general available to people who might have intersecting needs. So it's extra important for all the resources in a rural area to be safe and accessible to gender diverse people.

Like there's one library, one rec centre, one community resource centre in qathet. If they feel stigmatized, outed, socially uncomfortable, are refused service, then they might not have any other option.

Another issue that a lot of people that I know of in qathet face is that it's a small town, so everybody knows each other. Confidentiality in our groups is of utmost importance.

However, myself and my co-workers running the group are public about our identity and that we're running the program, because we also want to celebrate people's identities.

In a small town, there's a lot less anonymity. People are more cautious. People might have places where they're out and places where they're not out. And it's important to respect how people choose to navigate being trans in a small town.

What do you talk about in your workshops for organizations? Is it specific to each group?

We make a new set of slides for every group that we do. So for instance, recently we did the library. But we also did the Options for Sexual Health clinic. Two very different workshops. With the library services, we didn't go into how you might approach talking about a client's body parts. It just wasn't relevant.

It's a two-hour workshop, usually, and we have practice activities and discussion questions that we sometimes change depending on the relevancy. For every workshop we ask everyone to leave any assumptions or knowledge they might have about trans people at the door.

We define key terms like transgender, biological sex, gender, gender identity and gender expression — which are two different things; non-binary and gender fluid, cisgender, cisnormativity and heteronormativity. It's helpful to have a list of terms.

We talk about pronouns, about transitioning, and offer a bit of an overview of different types of transitioning someone might or might not choose to do. It doesn't make a person any more or less trans whether they will have a desire or ability to pursue social, physical or medical transition.

Then we propose some scenarios people can discuss and we have a break. We come back from the break and discuss these open-ended scenarios that we usually tailor to the service the organization provides. Then we'll dive deeper into the particular details of what trans-inclusive service looks like for that particular organization.

The press release Trans qathet put out after doing the workshop for Options for Sexual Health said none of your workshops are the same because things are changing all the time. Is that because there is a lot more research on trans people happening now?

Part of the workshop is we'll give a snapshot of how many trans people are in rural areas or cities in Canada, things like that. We also change because we're learning.

We get some questions from people sometimes that are just like, ‘Wow, I didn't even think of that as something you would need to learn about.’ And then we research it and put it in our next workshop.

What is changing is not necessarily the basic understanding or identity of being a trans person. But the way that it's understood in the general culture changes, which does change how we might want to present information and what we might be responding to.

When bathroom bills in the United States were a very contested topic, we were presenting information about that, for instance. Because it's a really discussion-based workshop, people are bringing information from the outside world that we respond to.

Can you share some of the things that you've had to look up?

We do find that we're still learning about different labels for different identities under the non-binary umbrella. Labels that we learn about from the community that we spend time with. So things like "demi boy" or "demi girl": more approaching the masculine area of the spectrum for demi boy, more at the feminine area for demi girl, still non-binary. That's always a fun research topic to encounter.

Is this a full-time job for you or any of the other staff?

No, and that is a big challenge.

How long do you have funding for?

It's on a year-to-year basis, basically. The core funding we have, for very minimal hours, we have renewed yearly from Trans Care BC. But finding funding to be able to provide more robust support to our community is an ongoing challenge. So we're constantly looking for bigger funding sources. Not that Trans Care BC's funding isn't appreciated!

What do you see for the future? What are your hopes for Trans qathet?

Oh my gosh. I picture being open five days a week in our office space. Having just a really comfortable, colourful space full of people who can drop by and do their homework, bake a cake, visit other people, access resources. Be able to provide resources from Trans qathet directly to the community as well. Like maybe have our own food bank or things like that. There's so many things I want to do.  [Tyee]

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