#BuildingQMUNITY - An All Hands On Deck Approach To Inclusiveness

During 2003 I was working towards my Bachelors degree in Psychology at SFU and I wanted to gain some volunteer experience by helping those in my community. At that time I had already met my boyfriend (now husband of eight years) and I felt pretty comfortable with expressing my own sexuality.

As such, I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others who had gone through similar hardships as me. This is where my search for a volunteer opportunity led me to The Centre - now known as QMUNITY.

I was young and somewhat inexperienced but I still felt empowered to share my own experiences with others and therefore I got the wonderful opportunity to co-facilitate a men's drop in group with one of my best friends. During this weekly group meetings my friend and I would encourage discussion around a specific topic by asking the participants to answer targeted questions. The group started small but after a few months it grew to twelve regular attendees. It was empowering to see members of the LGTBQ community coming together in spite of their age and experiential differences. Both my friend and I grew and learned a lot from this wonderful and unforgettable experience.

After two years of facilitating the group I had graduated and started working full time so I had to move on. However, my love for QMUNITY never  died and for that reason almost ten years later I am here to tell you a little bit more about their latest venture: developing a purpose-built facility. The new space will attempt to fully encompass the various members of the "gaybourhood" it will reside in and also the needs of those who are beyond its physical boundaries due to marginalisation or physical restrictions. To learn more about some of the myths/facts about QMUNITY's new facility please visit this page.

Due to my previous involvement with QMUNITY I was ecstatic to receive an email asking for volunteers to become facilitators at their community dialogue to discuss the future programs/needs/values for the new facility. I applied right away and I am honoured to say that I was selected for this amazing opportunity to see history being made in front on my very own eyes.

Here is some background information for QMUNITY's consultation held at SFU's Centre For Dialogue:

"QMUNITY is deeply invested in making sure our diverse communities' needs and priorities are identified and reflected in our future planning - including the programs and services available at our new facility."

You may wonder, what is dialogue in this context?

"Dialogue is concentrated conversation among equals. It offers helpful ways to work together cooperatively, encourages mutual understanding between diverse perspectives, and leads to stable, resilient outcomes."

With these concepts in mind, I will share my experience as a facilitator during today's event and I will give you a brief summary of the main take-aways from the session.

First of all, I am extremely proud to have learned that Vancity (my employer) along with SFU made the dialogue a reality by funding the event. It is amazing what can be done when communities are given a forum to express their views. Thank you to the sponsors for allowing this to become a reality.

The event started at around 9:30am this morning and after some brief introductions Dara Parker (QMUNITY's Executive Director) took the stage. Dara told us some amazing information like:
  • QMUNITY/The Centre have now been around for thirty six years
  • The new facility will be approximately 10,000 square feet
  • It will most likely be located in the West End neighbourhood (in as close proximity as possible to its current location on Davie and Bute)
  • The new facility will boast multi-purpose or flex spaces
  • The overall budget for the new building is approximately $10 million
Dara Parker, Executive Director at QMUNITY
Maura Lawless from Toronto's "The 519" LGTBQ Community Centre presented a keynote on her experience leading an LGTBQ Community Centre. My favourite quote from Maura were the following words she used when speaking to the volunteers about QMUNITY's efforts to have a fully inclusive facility: "what we are doing is not only important, it is also historic" - I couldn't agree more. Here are some details about The 519. 
  • It has a restaurant that serves food to the local community and caters special events as a social enterprise. It also provides employment to LGTBQ youth and other community members. 
  • There are no fees to gain access to the programs
  • 2900 members
  • 265,000 visits every year
  • Taking demographics into account and staying ahead by thinking of emerging communities (special focus on newcomers and refugees)
  • Their goal is to make everyone feel welcome and protected - special emphasis on trauma work
  • Space is beautiful and inviting as this generates pride and it encourages others to take care of facility
  • Working on developing a recreational//sports facility

Maura Lawless from The 519
Some key pieces of advice for QMUNITY from Maura included the following:

  1. Flexible spaces.
  2. Establishing a mandate (organization cannot be held accountable to provide all community services, relying on community partners is crucial). 
  3. Managing effectively (build a team that has a variety of strengths and connections).
  4. Resource development (sustainable revenue streams).
As a facilitator I was in charge of six to eight participants as they went through various activities. The first activity focused on determine QMUNITY's values. Our table focused on the importance of contention and how being different can lead to having opposing and controversial views but that instead of looking at that as negative we can and should embrace our differences. 

The second activity/breakout focused on connecting and getting support by creating a mind map. This "enabled participants to help identify and prioritize current and future needs for QMUNITY programs to help community members connect with others and access support services at QMUNITY."

The third and final breakout focused on learning and taking action and the objective was to "enable participants to voice their preferences and priorities for QMUNITY's education & training and advocacy work". Participants were asked to put themselves in QMUNITY's shoes and prioritise needs and develop strategies to address them. Here are some photos of what my group came up with:

To end the day Dara Parker thanked all of the volunteers, attendees, and community partners. Here's a video of her closing remarks:

As you can imagine this was an unforgettable day for me and I will cherish it and remember it forever. Some of my main lessons were:
  • Do not assume that all individuals you interact with use the pronouns he or she to refer to themselves. There are many colours in the rainbow and as such we cannot make gender assumptions. The male/female dichotomy will soon be abolished with all of our efforts. I am also happy to report that SFU provided participants of the dialogue with gender neutral washroom facilities. 
  • I will encourage gender neutral introductions at my workplace during meetings. This is what it would look like for those of you who may be curious: "Hi there, my name is Angel and I work as an account manager for Vancity Credit Union. I prefer to be spoken to using the pronouns he and his."
  • I learned that even though the resources for LGTBQ youth and senior members are limited there is an ever bigger gap when it comes to servicing young adults who find themselves having to transition into adulthood without services targeted to help them. I hope to see this changed soon. 
  • Finally, I think we could all benefit from applying the following into each and every one of our interactions. I know I will! 
Remember to smile and to celebrate your diversity.


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