Editor's note: This story is part of a series on the LGBTQ+ community in the Ottawa Valley. Next, we will hear from members of Queer Connection Lanark.
A parent’s job is to love and protect their child. When Jill Holroyd’s son came out to her 10 years ago as transgender at 16, Holroyd’s maternal instincts kicked in.
Holroyd knew she needed to ensure that her son, assigned female at birth, felt safe and loved. She has read enough about the challenges that transgender individuals face “navigating a world that doesn’t understand or accept who they are.”
Surprised by her son’s revelation, she explained that most parents are not equipped to handle the news.
“Your child has had years or months to think about it and to process who they are (and) where they fit. By the time they share that info with the parents, they’re feeling comfortable, but parents might be taken off guard,” Holroyd said.
The biggest challenge, according to Holroyd, is the lack of awareness and understanding. “There’s a lot of explaining to do.”
Her son is non-binary — meaning he doesn’t fully identify with either man or woman as his gender.
“We were raised to think there are two genders, it’s very binary, either one or the other: the one assigned at birth based on body parts. Gender is more nuanced than that. That understanding is starting to grow, but there’s a long way to go,” she said.
After moving to Renfrew from Toronto, where there were many different organizations supporting the LGBTQ2S+ community, Holroyd said it was a real eye-opener to see how few resources there were in Renfrew county.
She went straight to work and opened the Renfrew chapter of Pflag — offering support, education and outreach for LGBTQ2S+ individuals — in 2018. Pflag now has chapters in Pembroke and Arnprior.
"It’s all about peer support — parents and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community supporting one another along their journey,” Holroyd added.
Another challenge is geography and transportation. “In the city, you can hop on a bus and get to a meeting. Here, you have to drive 45 minutes to a meeting, and you need a car. There’s no public transportation — that’s a barrier,” Holroyd added.
The pandemic has also impacted the LGBTQ2S+ community in many ways. “Some of the factors are isolation from the community and isolation at home with homophobic family members. They may be ‘out’ with friends, but not at home,” she said.
Holroyd said LGBTQ2S+ individuals are less likely to seek out health care and have more health issues that go untreated.
Seeing a lack of community spaces tailored for LGBTQ2S+ individuals to connect with others, as well as having concern for their mental health, Holroyd applied for, and received a $20,000 federal grant through Pflag in partnership with Studio Dreamshare, an art gallery in Pembroke.
Cameron Montgomery, a full-time artist and owner of the gallery, had been leading the Rainbow Art Club for LGBTQ2S+ youth since the summer of 2020.
“(The youth) say ‘this is the highlight of my week.’ They really get value from it. It’s become a safe space for (LGBTQ2S+) youth,” Montgomery said. The online program sees 20 to 26 participants engaged in arts and crafts every Friday and will reopen for in-person classes starting Feb. 19.
Advice for parents of LGBTQ2S+ individuals
“You realize the future you may have envisioned for your child is not the one that’s going to transpire, but there is still a wonderful future for your child and a very enriching journey as a parent,” Holroyd said.
“It’s really important to listen and believe what your child is telling you. Who they are may not be what you expected, but it’s equally valid and wonderful.”
For more information, visit the following websites: http://www.pflagrenfrewcounty.ca; https://www.studiodreamshare.com or call the LGBTQ2S+ Youthline at 1-800-268-9688 or Trans Lifeline at 1-877-330-6366.
Yona Harvey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Smiths Falls Record News