On a beautiful October afternoon, a group of community partners, supporters along with residents and staff of the Village of Winston Park gathered to recognize the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Support of the reKINdle initiative. As you approach the Village of Winston Park – a retirement and long-term care residence in Kitchener – the sign declares: “We Are On A Journey Culture Change”.
This message could mean many things, but as you approach the door there is a small clue as to what journey the community of Winston Park, its staff, residents and their families, have been on over the last year. There is a small rectangular sticker fastened to the door. It is made up of six equally sized, horizontal lines, stacked one a-top the other: one red, one orange, one yellow, one green, one blue, and one purple. A rainbow. There is a similar sticker on each of the entrances to Winston Park. It’s small enough that you just might miss it, unless of course – you’re looking for it.
For people who are a part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and/or Queer (LGBTQ+) community, this small symbol is recognized throughout the world as a sign of pride, acceptance and celebration. So how did this sticker end up on the door at Winston Park, why is it so significant that it is there, and what does CJI’s Elder Mediation Service have to do with it?
Over the last 18-months, CJI’s Elder Mediation Service has also been on a journey that eventually led to that beautiful October afternoon at the Village of Winston Park. So where did it begin? We were approached by SPECTRUM – a local organization that is the Region’s Rainbow community space, with inquiries about using mediation in situations where older adult LGBTQ+ community members had experienced discrimination or marginalization. They were in the midst of a major initiative, Beyond the Rainbow, that was seeking to connect with housing and service providers for older adults to talk about the experiences, perspectives and needs of LGBTQ+ older adults.
As we connected with SPECTRUM, and their Aging with Pride Committee, we started to hear stories and began to understand the discrimination and marginalization that older adult LGBTQ+ members of our community face and fear as they age. Results from the LGBTQ Home Care Access Project at York University found that in Ontario, 50% of LGBTQ+ service users feared losing the respect of their service providers if they should come out1. A CBC investigation highlighted that LGBTQ+ seniors felt wary of being out in long-term care facilities and many retreated back into the closet out of fear of discrimination or maltreatment2. The film Gen Silent is a must see for anyone seeking to understand the experiences of LBGTQ+ older adults navigating the long-term care system – you can borrow it from SPECTRUM’s DVD library.
The Canadian population is aging; while we know that about 5% of the Canadian population identifies as LGBTQ+ many service providers in our own community acknowledged that they had few, if any, openly LGBTQ+ service users. The generation that fought for LGBTQ+ rights is also aging. Despite being the leaders of the movements for LGBTQ+ rights, many members of this community do not anticipate enjoying the same openness and freedom they have fought for when the time comes to leave their own homes and reside in retirement or long-term care facilities. The reKINdle initiative is seeking to create a new reality for the older adults from the LGBTQ+ community in Waterloo Region.
Modeled on a Gay-Straight Alliance, a way in which school communities have created safe spaces for members and non-members of the LGBTQ+ community to gather for conversation and friendship building, reKINdle hosts groups in retirement and long-term care residences. In partnership with SPECTRUM’s Aging with Pride Committee’s dedicated volunteers reKINdle has hosted bi-weekly groups at two older adult residences in our community since January 2019. Waterloo Region Housing’s Franklin Street Building and The Village of Winston Park partnered to host the first groups. Their partnership has also opened up the opportunity to dialogue about the organizational and structural changes that are also needed to make retirement and long-term care safe and inclusive for all members of our community.
The unveiling of the Rainbow stickers at Winston Park was a part of the first ever Pride Parade to be hosted there – reKINdle was delighted to share in this celebration and to mark the courageous journey of listening, asking questions, and building relationships that led to that moment.
At the October recognition event, community members, representatives from community organizations, reKINdle volunteers, participants, and facilitators were invited to gather to meet, to hear from each other, and experience some of the rituals that structure reKINdle group sessions. We opened by singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, passed around a handcrafted talking piece, and listened as staff members, reKINdle volunteers, residents and community partners shared their stories and reflections. It was a day of reflecting on the successes of the past year, and dreaming about how we can continue our work together in the future.
Written by: Leah Martin, Mediation Services Program Assistant