Finding your place in the world can be challenging. And this challenge is compounded when you find out you don’t fit where you were expected to. This is a very real dilemma for many members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Statistics Canada estimates that 3 per cent of the Canadian population openly identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual (they don’t yet report on the percentage of transgender Canadians). Who should these Canadians turn to when struggling with questions of selfhood? Where can they, and their families, turn for support when they’re facing an identity crisis?
Luckily, Toronto’s queer community has a trusted resource in Parents for Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
PFLAG Canada is a volunteer-run not-for-profit organization whose primary goal is to provide support for LGBTQ+ community members and their families, helping them to navigate both the coming-out process and the world. They provide monthly support meetings, as well as educational workshops for schools and workplaces to help inform broader audiences about the realities of LGBTQ+ life, how to be an ally, and the importance of tackling stigma and misconceptions.
“We don’t know exactly when it started,” says Anne Creighton, president of Toronto’s PFLAG chapter, “[but] it started with two moms taking calls at home from panicked kids, saying, ‘could you talk to my mom?’ ”
PFLAG can trace its official beginnings, however, to 1978, with their first non-residential telephone line. “We weren’t talking about gender back in those days,” Creighton explains.
The aim then, as it is now, was to protect gay and lesbian individuals from discrimination around employment and housing. In the eyes of PFLAG’s founders, the best approach to protect and fight for the community was to start with youth. They resolved to ensure that no matter how much discrimination queer youths faced in the world, they still had at least one space where they could feel safe with parents who accepted them: their homes.
It’s 2019 now, and PFLAG’s presence is as necessary and relevant as ever.
The cultural conversation in Canada has shifted dramatically, and with the increasing acceptance of homosexuality, PFLAG has found that the scope needs to broaden to include gender. In recent years, they have met a growing demand for transgender and non-binary resources.
“At our public meetings, it’s very rare for us to have parents walk through the door and say, ‘I’m really upset my kid is gay,’ ” says Creighton. “I would say 90 per cent of the people who cross our threshold say, ‘My son says he’s a girl.’ ”
She explains that today, parents seem to be troubled the most by expressions of femininity in boys. This prejudice is an issue that spans more than just sexuality, speaking to the deep-rooted sexism that continues to inform the Canadian social order. For cis and genderqueer youth alike, parental understanding and support can be crucial to the formation of a healthy identity.
Parents love their children and want the best for them. This shared goal is why PFLAG continues to be so successful–––it’s the “fertile ground” in which the volunteers of PFLAG can plant the seeds of growth.
The process of coming out as LGBTQ+ can be a scary and confusing time for all involved. For the kids themselves, it’s usually a long journey they began some time ago, but for their parents, it’s square one. PFLAG helps bridge that gap.
Creighton says: “It’s mostly parents who come. Sometimes grandparents. Sometimes, a sister or an aunt.” Family members often require time, and a supportive environment to ask questions, voice concerns, and often just listen to other people’s testimonials.
In addition to their monthly meeting, the PFLAG phoneline is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. And they always have time for one-on-one meetings over coffee for people who aren’t ready to attend a meeting. “We’ve helped thousands of families,” says Creighton. And that’s what they’ll continue to do.
The PFLAG east-end monthly support meetings take place at Kimbourne Park United Church, 200 Wolverleigh Blvd. For more information visit www.torontopflag.org.
24-hour Telephone Support Line: 416-406-6378
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