With the new school year less than a month away and the memory of the June 28 University of Waterloo attacks on a gender studies classroom still lingering, two local organizations haven’t wavered in their support of students.
SPECTRUM, an organization that serves, affirms, and supports the well-being of 2SLGBTQIA+ people in Waterloo region, provides over 30 different groups and programs each month designed to create spaces where people can build community and find a sense of belonging.
One of which is the biweekly Cambridge Transgender Peer Support Group at the Old Post Office Idea Exchange.
None of this new, but has become increasingly important under the current social climate.
Scott Williams, executive director of SPECTRUM, sees the recent attack as just one reminder of a larger problem.
“I see the attack at the University of Waterloo as a sadly predictable outcome of the escalation in hate speech against gender-diverse people which we've seen in our community over the past year,” Williams said.
“We also see people ignoring or missing the connections between queerphobia and white supremacy in our community and beyond. I don't think we can address one without also addressing the other and, too frequently, our leaders are not addressing either of them adequately.”
The progress that has been made isn’t lost on Williams, as he acknowledges Cambridge has come a long way in supporting the 2SLGBTQIA+ community but still feels there’s a ways to go.
Until same-sex couples can walk down the street without the fear of verbal or physical harassment and trans and non-binary people can use a public washroom without finding themselves subjected to violence, the fight for their rights continues, Williams says.
Williams believes the first step in being an ally is education, which is where Camino Wellbeing and Mental Health has stepped up.
Working with both the public and catholic school boards, Camino runs workshops for educators, counselling sessions for students and several support groups.
The OK2BME services that are run under Camino focuses on the positives of joy and being inclusive.
Like SPECTRUM, this work has been ongoing well before the events that transpired at the university.
“Its the climate we live in, the incident at UW was in our backyard and was horrible but it doesn't change what we're doing because our supports are the same,” Jacki Yovanoff of Camino Wellbeing and Mental Health said.
“All we can do is focus on queer joy. I think it’s really important, queer joy, representation and being positive. It’s hard to combat hateful things that are said but we’re trying to do that to support people. The empowerment that comes with joy can't be understated.”
Yovanoff understands that with progress can come backlash, regardless of the issue and that it seems to be a bigger problem in recent years.
The work within schools focuses on a wraparound approach centred on inclusivity, equity, representation and helping everyone.
“When we represent all the different aspects of humanity, we learn about them and understand them better,” Yovanoff said.
“I’m a big believer its not something to be taught later. It comes down to that belonging, we're all connected through our humanity.”
Williams and the team at SPECTRUM emphasize a truly inclusive community is one where everyone is able to bring their complete and authentic self to every situation without fear of being discriminated against.
“It's critical to promote inclusivity to younger people,” he said.
“It's critical to promote inclusivity to all people. Diversity is simply a fact. We're not all identical. Everyone has different dimensions to their identity. Studies of all kinds have shown that a society is stronger when it embraces difference and makes an effort at inclusion.”
For more information on Camino Wellbeing and Mental Health visit caminowellbeing.ca.