Waterloo Region's 2SLGBTQ+ organization, Spectrum welcomes Mark Hartburg to the board

·4 min read

When Mark Hartburg first came out, he had no community support to lean on. Today, the former minister sits on the board of Spectrum, a 2SLGBTQ+ organization in Waterloo Region that provides peer support and education tools that foster a sense of belonging in the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

The following is a Q&A conversation between Hartburg and Cambridge Times about his journey to joining Spectrum, what changes he anticipates for the organization and his goal of banning gay conversion therapy in the region.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO JOIN SPECTRUM AS AN ORGANIZATION?

Mark: So I came out late in life in 2013. My wife had passed and I had been living in the closet my whole life up until then. But at that time, I decided to come out. I happened to be a minister, a church minister for 28 years in a conservative church, and so I left the church because I knew I would have been removed from office if I had come out before then. So I was starting over, and really had no support in the community.

I turned to Spectrum because they had a coming-out group for older adults at the time. That really helped me through that very difficult transition, and some of those people have become my dearest friends. One of the group leaders was a witness at my second wedding to my husband Bruce. Then I became a volunteer. I have volunteered with a couple of peer support groups and social groups, and the time came that I thought it was appropriate to join the board. I’m excited about the next part of this journey.

WHAT CHANGES ARE YOU HOPING TO SEE THE ORGANIZATION MAKE?

Mark: Well, we're in a huge transition period. We recently received some major funding from the federal government, and it allowed us to hire some staff to do capacity building. That period is now drawing to a close. Going forward we’re trying to be more of an agency than a volunteer organization, although we will continue to rely heavily on volunteers.

We are hoping that we can have paid staff on an ongoing basis. We are very excited about the possibility of continuing to grow and expand our services. Spectrum has created, for the first time, an extensive policy and procedures manual that will help us as the board seeks to govern, as well as manage, the operations. So I think we're at a real turning point. Up until this past year we had no paid staff. So that really limited what we were able to do.

YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT BANNING GAY CONVERSION THERAPY. HOW PREVALENT IS GAY CONVERSION THERAPY IN WATERLOO REGION?

Mark: It often operates under the radar, a lot of these practices exist in faith or ethnic communities, and it’s based on ongoing systemic queerphobia. I was a survivor of gay conversion therapy myself, and it is really devastating and harmful to people's health and well-being.

I've met a number of people that are survivors. But these conversion practices are really sustained efforts, especially by authority figures in our lives, that pressure us to believe that we're broken and need to be fixed. So we're going to be bringing a resolution. A resolution is being brought to the Kitchener city council on Nov. 22, sponsored by Debbie Chapman, one of the councillors that will seek to denounce these practices and come up with some practical steps to make sure that our survivors, and those at risk in our community, are supported.

HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A PASTOR CONTRIBUTES TO YOUR CURRENT ROLE?

Mark: In my role as a minister, caring for people was a positive experience, and that carries on into my role as a volunteer for Spectrum. A lot of what we do at Spectrum is provide peer support, it's not counselling or therapy, but it's people of similar experiences coming together and standing with each other and supporting each other, and helping to create a broader, supportive community for people who may not have that kind of support among their family of birth or among their communities. I share their experiences so the people I’m helping don't feel alone and they feel a sense of community that helps them on their journey toward affirmation and acceptance.

Genelle Levy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cambridge Times

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