With NWT Pride entering its 5th year this weekend, City Hall showing support for the LGBTQ community with rainbow crosswalks, and even JTFN raising a rainbow flag, Yellowknife seems, in many ways, to be maturing into a progressive town. Yet despite all those signs, there’s been no space in town specifically geared towards welcoming and supporting LGBTQ youth. Until now.
Later this month, a Rainbow Centre is opening up in the Good Company building (the old Union of Northern Workers building) on 52nd Street.
“The idea is to create a space where queer and trans youth or queer and trans people in general feel safe spending time in a social way or accessing peer support,” says Jacq Brasseur, a board member of It Gets Better Yellowknife, and one of the driving forces behind the rainbow centre.
“When there’s a custom space where it’s like, ‘you’re welcome here, this is for you,’ it makes you super inclined to go there, and makes you feel safe and supported,” adds 17-year-old Damien Benoit, another board member for the new centre. “Showing the schools that there’s something like this, I think it’s going to encourage people to come out, and say I’m queer, I need this support, and it’s there for me.”
"It’s all about allowing the people that the decisions affect to make those decisions”
The centre, which will be open from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, and from noon to 8 p.m. on weekends, will have a hangout and meeting space, a resource library of books, magazines and films, and an office. It will be run mostly by volunteer staff, including eight board members, all under the age of 24.
“We’re a youth organization, and when you look at LGBTQ theory and history and feminist theory and history, it’s all about allowing the people that the decisions affect to make those decisions,” says Brasseur. “So part of that is allowing young queer and trans people to decide how young queer and trans people are being supported.”
The hope is to eventually have paid staff to manage the space and organize programming, which could include everything from queer men’s support groups to education nights for parents of LGBTQ kids to visits from nurses and doctors trained to provide appropriate care, says Brasseur.
The funding for the centre is coming in part from the GNWT’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs ($13,888) and partly from Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority ($15,000). The $15,000 from YHSSA, in particular, came as a pleasant surprise, says Brasseur. It Gets Better Yellowknife had only asked for $5000, but when Brasseur and Benoit met with YHSSA CEO Les Harrison, he suggested they ask for even more.
“It was really amazing to see somebody who was so excited about the possibility of the project and saw the value in it,” says Brasseur. “When I talk to my friends who work in LGBTQ and queer activism down south, they often have a hard time convincing health agencies that they need training, or that barriers do exist. So to have the CEO of the city’s health agency say, barriers do exist, we want to fix them, so we’re going to give you some money and continue partnering with you — for me that was really exciting.”
Although this is the first official rainbow centre Brasseur has heard of in Yellowknife, they say it comes after decades of informal work done by LGBTQ activists to create safe spaces in town.
“I’m sure that they existed in informal ways, there’s LGBTQ people in the community that I’m sure have opened up their houses before,” says Brasseur. “But I think it’s important to consider that 20 years ago, this couldn't have existed, and without the work of people like Zoe Raemer, Julie Green and Lorne Gushue, and all of these people involved in Out North… things like Pride and It Gets Better Yellowknife, we couldn’t be doing the work we do without having that groundwork done.
“So if something like a rainbow centre existed before, and I’m sure that it has, it had to be discreet and subtle. And we’re excited to be able to have a sign on the building being ‘Gay People Live Here,’ you know, out and proud.”
“When Nicole [Garbutt] and I founded it Gets Better Yellowknife, we talked about how if we just save one person, that’s good, that’s enough,” adds Brasseur. “It’s not about quantity, it’s about the quality of life we’re able to give individual young queer and trans people in Yellowknife and make them see they have a right to feel safe in our community, and they have a right to exist without having to sacrifice parts of themselves. And the rainbow centre we’re building will be a space where people don’t have to sacrifice parts of themselves in order to exist.”