City council will be asked to make anti-homophobia training mandatory in youth shelters, a “watershed” decision according to LGBTQ advocates.
A city hall committee unanimously recommended Wednesday that council approve the new training guidelines, along with steps to create an LGBTQ-only homeless shelter in Toronto.
Gay, lesbian and transgendered people are massively overrepresented in Toronto’s youth homeless population, at 19 per cent, often driven to the streets by family disapproval and social stigma.
Many report violence at the hands of other shelter residents, and staff ill-equipped to cope with homophobia and transphobia.
Some shelters do train their staff on LGBTQ issues, but are not obligated to do so. Mandatory “anti-oppression” training for shelter managers contains little information on combating homophobia, according to Alex Abramovich, who recently completed a PhD on Toronto’s homeless sexual minorities.
“The biggest thing is terminology: a lot of shelter staff don’t know what transphobia means, or whether lesbian is an OK word to use,” Abramovich said.
Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who proposed the training motion, said committee approval was a “big step.”
“I described it as a watershed moment for the city. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I can’t imagine 10 years ago the city recommending something like this.”
The committee also asked city staff to investigate the possibility of setting aside 25 per cent of beds in one shelter for LGBTQ youth, and to put out a tender for community interest in running an LGBTQ youth shelter, which Toronto does not have.
“Every member of the committee, including myself, was strongly convinced that there is a clear need and purpose for an LGBTQS shelter in Toronto,” said Ward 22 Councillor Josh Matlow.
Council will vote on the initiatives on July 8 or 9.
Abramovich said the committee’s decision left him “hopeful about the future.”
“It was a really, really big day at city hall. I’m thankful for this amazing progress — we’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
“There’s something nice about moving on this during WorldPride,” added Matlow, “so instead of just celebrating Pride, we’re taking policy action.”
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