Equality, diversity, multiculturalism: these are things Canadians are best known for, and take pride in. It's no surprise that with Canada's LGBT community, the aforementioned applies.
While there's a plethora of organizations throughout the country that preach equality, diversity, and multiculturalism, there's also a growing number of resources that offer support to our LGBT community. Involvement with organizations, teaching, and resource centre counselling are just a few opportunities that await you if your passion is to help build and offer continued support to LGBT individuals in Canada.
If you're an avid volunteer with a genuine desire to make your community a better place, Pride at Work Canada may just be the right gig for you. The non-profit organization based in Toronto focuses on LGBT people in the workplace. Specifically, their goal is to improve the climate of inclusiveness for the LGBTs in today's offices, departments, or any given workspace.
'Our vision is to create a nation where all LGBT Canadians can achieve their full potential at work,' says Brent Chamberlain, executive director at Pride at Work Canada. 'What that means is they can be themselves, bring their whole selves into work, and engage in a work environment that's open and inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity.'
The organization is made up of two full-time staff members, Chamberlain being one of them, and a volunteer-based board of directors. Its members have backgrounds in a number of sectors and industries like business, education, and healthcare, just to name a few. Since the organization's establishment in 2008 (and celebrating their five-year anniversary this month), Pride at Work Canada's efforts have focused on three main categories according to Chamberlain: employee resource groups, diversity in HR professionals, and executive sponsorship. Altogether those are the organization's three main focuses, with hopes of ultimately 'making this dream [inclusiveness for LGBT] a reality,' says Chamberlain.
Rewinding to five years ago and back to the premature days of the Canadian economic recession, Chamberlain says that marked the birth of many LGBT-supporting organizations and companies we see today. 'They saw that there was a need to link up with one another,' says Chamberlain. 'Not just individual organizations doing this by themselves, but [by] linking with like-minded organizations who were doing similar projects so that they could share some lessons learned amongst themselves.'
In response to the outpour of support, the efforts of these organizations translated into a strong desire to coordinate events not only open to individual groups, but celebrated by more than one.
Since 2008, Pride at Work Canada has collaborated with more than 45 organizations provincially and nationally in a wide range of sectors, thus contributing to the increase in inclusiveness of LGBTs in Canada's workplaces.
Research and education
If your knack is gathering data and digging for numbers, a career in research or education is likely best suited for you. Dr. Wendy Cukier, founder of the Diversity Institute stationed in Toronto's Ryerson University says that supporting LGBTs in the workplace is not only important from an equality perspective, but also from a business standpoint. 'If people don't get that they're running a hotel, and when two men check in they could potentially be partners and not friends,' she says, 'making assumptions about what facilities they want could actually be offensive.' Cukier continues and says that ensuring staff within companies are well-educated and aware of these issues is an essential component to their growth and success.
The Diversity Institute, whose goal is to provide companies in the private and public sectors with evidence-based information and strategies to encourage inclusion in the workplace, has been in existence since 1999. Although the institute supports diversity and equality of all sorts (gender, Aboriginal people, visible minorities, those with disabilities), it also focuses heavily on sexual orientation and gender identities. Specifically, Cukier concentrates on what she calls an 'ecological model,' which essentially means effecting change at several levels. She uses the examples of media representation and company marketing, and compares LGBT existence within those categories. 'The way in which our culture represents people with different gender identities and sexual orientations has a profound impact on stereotypes and assumptions that then shape behaviour in organizations,' she says. 'At the end of the day, organizations don't do things; people do things.'
And all of her research efforts don't go unnoticed. According to Cukier, the response to inclusiveness in the workplace for the LGBT community has been a positive one. What impresses Cukier the most is the existence of advertisements from companies and universities (like Ryerson), who encourage equity groups to apply. 'For a long time Ryerson didn't specifically mention sexual orientation and gender identity, and it was actually after we got a new vice-president of Finance and Human Resources' [that she made] sure it was in all of our advertisements,' she says. 'That was really an important gesture, not just to the external community but for what it signaled to the internal community, so that's an example of very concrete change.'
And change is essential. A career in research to ensure the maintenance of equality whether it is in the workplace'like the Diversity Institute's mission'or just in general between straight and queer Canadians is important to the social sphere of this country. But also, a career in teaching can also be an effective way to relay support to our LGBT community.
If you find small joys in connecting with others on a daily basis and making a lasting difference, a career as a counsellor may be your perfect match. 'It feels like a privilege to be able to work in an organization where you're doing work that you're passionate about that is making a positive impact in the community and that is driven by human rights,' says Dara Parker, executive director of Qmunity, BC's queer resource centre. 'I got involved because I saw an opportunity to make the difference, and that's always been important and meaningful in my work.'
Qmunity's mission is to offer support to the Canadian LGBT community through programs, training, and efficacies. The resource centre doesn't only cater to one age group, but to anyone from BC's youth to its seniors. Resource centers, like Qmunity offer a number of services to guide and support the LGBTs, but also continue to advocate for social change for BC's queer community. 'We make sure that queer stories are visible in the media, and we do a lot of referrals information for people who are reaching out for support,' says Parker. 'We go into private and public sector organizations and other service sector organizations.'
Although Canada has witnessed a positive evolution of LGBT rights, for instance through the legalization of same-sex marriage, Parker says there's plenty of work to be done. 'There's still a lot of core issues that remain for young people and seniors. There's still a lot of homophobia and transphobia that's safe to say on a daily basis; that shows up in bullying in schools, or homophobic care institutions.'
That's where your passion can come into play. Whether your degree is in social work or communications, Parker says as long as you have some LGBT knowledge and desire to make social change, a career in counseling and resource centre work can evolve into a rewarding experience.
See the facts
- As of July 2005, 99.6% of Canada lived in a jurisdiction where same-sex couples could get married. PEI was the only province that didn't legalize same-sex marriage until the following month (August).
- 5% of Canadians identify as LGBT.
- 74% of Canadians say they know someone who is LGBT.
- Canadian youth are more likely to say they are LGBT than those over 35 years old'10% for youth compared to an average of 2.5% for adults 35 years+.