LGBTQ+ in Ottawa Valley: How a Pembroke art club 'changed' youth, provided safe haven

·2 min read

Editor's note: This story is part of a series on the LGBTQ+ community in the Ottawa Valley.

A Friday night art club in Pembroke not only teaches macrame, watercolour painting and embroidery for LGBTQ+ youth, it has also become a supportive place to “bare wounds,” according to one of the participants.

Ky Crosby, 16, has been attending Rainbow Art Club at Studio Dreamshare since January this year. “We were baring wounds ... showing each other what we have been through. We were each other’s support systems,” Crosby said of the 26 participants.

Crosby, from Petawawa, admitted being scared during the first meeting but found the group to be kind and accepting. “It changed me. I love it there,” Crosby said.

Cameron Montgomery, a full-time artist and owner of the gallery, has been leading the art club online since the summer of 2020. The art club was made possible through a federal grant of $20,000 in partnership with Pflag Renfrew and United Way East Ontario.

“(The youth) say ‘this is the highlight of my week.’ They really get value from it. It’s become a safe space for (LGBTQ+) youth,” Montgomery said.

Participants receive boxes of craft supplies sent in the mail. There’s a different project every week.

Crosby identifies as a lesbian and uses the pronouns they/them. “A few months ago, I told (my parents) I was gender fluid. Some days I’d feel more masculine, other days feminine, some days I’d feel in-between.”

“I didn’t know if people would understand it,” Crosby said.

When asked about the challenges LGBTQ+ individuals face, Crosby admitted it’s heartbreaking to see stigma. “I believe in 44 countries you could be killed (for being LGBTQ+). If anything, I just want to open people’s minds. Let them know that we are people, we feel things, we want the same things they do,” they said.

Small-minded people, according to Crosby, are a “common threat": people who are not understanding and not willing to understand.

“I also believe that within ourselves, we ourselves are big threats. We undermine, we doubt ourselves. We really need to let our guard down and allow other people to see in,” Crosby observed.

“We all want to love, we’re scared. We all want to be happy at the end of the day,” they said.

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Yona Harvey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Smiths Falls Record News