OUTSaskatoon reduces capacity for its education and support services after a slew of layoffs

Following a lack of funding, OutSaskatoon has laid off nine staff members and accepted the resignation of its executive director. (Travis Reddaway/CBC - image credit)
Following a lack of funding, OutSaskatoon has laid off nine staff members and accepted the resignation of its executive director. (Travis Reddaway/CBC - image credit)

Lex Edmunds has been going to OUTSaskatoon for seven years. When they first came out as gender diverse, the Two Spirit and transgender USask student found their safe space there.

"But now, we hear from our facilitator that they are no longer going to have gender evolution meetings for the foreseeable future. That is very distressing," they said.

"It is the only support I have that is free and peer supported. We never had a closure of this type, let alone so abruptly."

In a Wednesday afternoon news release, OUTSaskatoon said it had to take the "necessary steps to be able to continue serving the community" but regrets the decision to lay off nine staff members and the resignation of the executive director.

All the educational and support services have been put on a hold until Monday when it will resume with changes to capacity. This is the second pride organization in the province that is struggling lately. Moose Jaw Pride was dissolved last fall due to financial liabilities.

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

"Throughout the pandemic, OUTSaskatoon experienced a major increase in the demand of critical services. OUTSaskaton expanded our human resources to meet the need but unfortunately have not been able to maintain the funding levels to sustain this growth," the release read.

Edmunds said there is a lack of transparency around the lay-offs and service closures.

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In their gender evolution meetings, they said people traveled from North Battleford, Regina and other rural pockets of the province to access support. Edmunds, who grew up in Dundurn, Sask., said they empathize with LGBTQ people from rural Saskatchewan coming to OUTSaskatoon for support.

"It's a huge disruption. I'm having a hard time getting up from bed just to be surrounded with transphobia. We have local people latching onto that transphobic politics in the U.S.," they said.

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

Edmunds said with transphobic comments being levied online against drag performers and transgender artists, support groups like OUTSaskatoon are invaluable in spreading awareness.

"Them closing their facility also means I no longer have access to the therapy I received there," they said.

"Because we love OUTSaskatoon, we are devastated. We need that transparency. When they expressed only on Instagram that they're closing, it was just shocking. We needed that information sent to us earlier. We need to know why these layoffs are happening?"

CBC reached out to OUTSaskatoon multiple times for an interview but did not receive any response.

Lack of funding for LGBTQ groups

Lisa Phillipson, co-chair of the Queen City Pride in Regina, is saddened to learn about the news affecting many in the community directly.

Calling OUTSaskatoon "an essential service" to the community, she said the group was a pinnacle for many groups in the province when it came to providing LGBTQ services.

"Beginning of the pandemic, there were many funding streams created by the governments for queer folks. Some of those streams stopped happening this year which meant the infrastructure groups established over the past three years have no funding to run," she said.

Richard Agecoutay/CBC
Richard Agecoutay/CBC

"Never heard of a non-profit that wouldn't like more funding. We are doing okay but there's definitely room for improvement."

Phillipson said OUTSaskatoon will have a bumpy road ahead but hopes it will bounce back. She said the government has a role to play to keep such vital organizations afloat.

"We can do it without them, but I don't think we should have too. We provide services like assisting trans folks to navigate with name changing in the system," she said.

"I think governments, both provincial and federal, need to step up and do more. I know there are funds out there to allocate to this, they have allocated funds to stupider stuff. I'm sure they can figure this out at some point too. I hope they do."

In an email statement, the province said it is focused on meeting the needs of Saskatchewan people through partnerships with community-based organizations to ensure services and programs remain accessible.

Other community groups say they are already seeing a rise in calls for services as an aftermath.

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

University of Saskatchewan Students' Union pride centre says it is already getting more calls and emails.

"OUTSaskatoon is one of our biggest resources we offer students off campus or people that come in who aren't students in terms of supports. Now, it's just a matter of having to navigate that." Kseniah Pidskalny, the pride coordinator at the university, said.

"It will be crazy from here."

Pidskalny said many resources like doctors and psychologists at OUTSaskatoon are difficult for them to provide but do offer peer support as they and other community groups in the city try to fill the gap.

"It's a tremendous loss. We are hoping that things are back up where they were for OUTSaskatoon as the community has your back and we feel the loss for them."