Background of this organization would spread across North

Background

The
coming-out process can be a critical time for families. When the adjustment
period is particularly long or painful, relationships can become permanently
damaged, resulting in a lifetime of emotional scars. People cannot always rise
above the challenge of accepting themselves or their family member, and the
results can be devastating, even fatal. That’s why in 1972
as Jeanne Manford marched through the streets of New York alongside her son,
she was approached by many gay, lesbian and transsexual persons begging her to
speak to their parents. Begging her to try to make them understand and accept
their sons and daughters as who they were. Jeanne would decide to start a
support group, not just for gay, lesbian and transgendered persons but entire
families struggling to understand and support their loved ones. The first
meeting of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) would take place on
March 26th 1973 in New York with an attendance of roughly 20 people
(Pflag USA 2017). As time passed, news of this organization would spread across
North America, and various chapters would pop up across the map. In 1991 in
Toronto Parents of Gays (POG) and Families & Friends of Gays and Lesbians
(FFlag) would merge and would also name themselves PFLAG, a separate but very
similar organization to PFLAG within the United States. However, this
distinction would not come to full fruition until 2003, when PFLAG Canada would
consolidate over 70 different support groups for parents of Gays and Lesbians,
and officially become PFLAG Canada. (PFLAG Canada 2017)

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                 PFLAG Canada is a national charitable
organization run by volunteers with over 60 chapters from coast to coast.
Meetings are held monthly or bi-weekly depending on the city. These meetings
and support tools are designed to aid and reach PFLAG Canadas mission of ”
 promoting the health and well-being
of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual,
two-spirit, intersex, queer and questioning  persons, their families and
friends through: Support, to cope with an adverse society, and Education,
to enlighten an ill-informed public in order to end discrimination and secure
equal rights.” (Canada Helps) Each different PFLAG
affiliate is coordinated and facilitated by a community member within the
localized LGBTQPAA community. Within Montreal the facilitators of the PFLAG
chapter are both based out of the Gender Advocacy center on Concordia
University’s campus. PFLAG Canada is governed by its board of directors, a
board that is nine members large and is responsible for the oversight and
financial governance of the organization and its many affiliates (PFLAG Canada).  The board of directors is also responsible
for ensuring its partners organizations are actively fulfilling PFLAG Canada’s
vision of ” actively assisting in the
recognition and growth of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual,
two-spirit, intersex, queer and questioning persons and their families and
friends, within their diverse cultures and societies.” (Canada Helps)

Issues  

PFLAG
is continuously working to build a greater support network for friends and
family members of gay, lesbian, transgendered, two spirited, transsexual,
intersex and queer persons. This network of support and understanding is
crucial in attempting to alleviate a multitude of issues facing the members of
these communities.  One of the litany of
issues faced by members of this community is the issue of homelessness.
According to The homeless hub Canada, an estimated 25-40% of all homeless youth
in Canada are members of the LGBTQPAA community (The Homeless hub). However we
must note that this data is from a study conducted over fourteen years ago, and
while there have been national studies conducted since, none of them have
addressed the issue of sexuality or gender identity. While there have not been
national gender/sexuality studies conducted, there have been regional studies
conducted such as in Toronto where 20% of all homeless youth identify as a
member of the LGBTQPAA community (The Homeless Hub). And as noted by the
homeless hub we can estimate that this number is actually much higher, as many
youth did not choose to come out to volunteers conducting the survey for fears
of safety and potential “street retribution”(The homeless hub).  Many people attribute the higher homelessness
rate amongst the members of the LGBTQPAA community due to homophobia and
transphobia within the home as well as within the shelter system. With a higher
rate of homelessness and difficulties finding employment, some Trans persons
are forced to resort to sex work in order to make some kind of money in order
to simply survive, let alone begin to afford necessary medications and
treatments to allow them to live as they feel they should. As noted by Cecilia
Benoit in her 2015 work “Sex Work in
Canada” Benoit notes that “There are
no accurate estimates of the gender breakdown of sex workers. Most research
indicates the sex industry is highly gendered, with the overwhelming majority
of sex workers identifying as women (including both cisgendered and Trans women)”
As well Benoit also notes that  “trans people, and trans women in particular,
are at greater risk of violence compared to cisgendered workers – that is,
those whose biological sex and gender identity are the same. This is because
working in the sex industry can compound the stigma and discrimination that
many Trans people already experience within Canadian society. For example, one
study has suggested that sex buyers who do not intentionally want to purchase
sexual services from a Trans person may feel “duped” if and when they realize.
Some of these sex buyers may respond aggressively and/or violently” (Benoit,
2015). From 1991-2014 there were over 294 reported homicides of confirmed sex
workers, which represents 2% of all homicides during that time frame, with 57%
of those homicides being directly attributed to the victims role as a sex
worker ( Statistics Canada). As of this time there is no data regarding
LGBTQPAA rates in sex work or homicide rates, the closest data set that can be
correlated is from the Trans Murder Monitoring Project, which only lists one
murder of a Trans person in Canada from October 2016- September 2017. The
murder would occur in the Montreal village of Pointe St Charles, as Trans sex
worker Sisi Thibert would lose her life in in September of 2017 (Paling 2017).

There
are also numerous issues facing LGBTQPAA persons within the healthcare
community. Studies show that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and (LGBT)
populations, in addition to having the same basic health needs as the general
population, experience health disparities and barriers related to sexual
orientation and/or gender identity. Many avoid or delay care or receive
inappropriate or inferior care because of perceived or real homophobia,
biphobia, transphobia, and discrimination by health care providers and
institutions. Homophobia in medical practice is a reality. A 1998 survey of
nursing students showed that 8–12% “despised” lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB)
people, 5–12% found them “disgusting,” and 40–43% thought LGB people should
keep their sexuality private. (Gay and Lesbian Medical Association)

Policy   

With
homeless rates statistically higher than their Cisgendered counterparts,
coupled with social stigmas and fear of violence, it is clear that early
intervention must take place in order to assist both the youth of the LGBTQPAA
community, as well as their friends and families. It is during this crucial
stage of a youth’s life where PFLAG and its subsidiary chapters seek to
accomplish the bulk of their mission and vision.  As a volunteer organization PFLAG does not
make decisions as an entire entity, however they allow each of their subsidiary
PFLAG chapters, to operate relatively autonomously, only intervening in the
event of mismanagement or more extreme circumstances. This autonomy allows each
grassroots chapter dictate what positions it may take or advocate on behalf of
in regards to social or political issues. As well PFLAG does not generate its
own research, however it relies upon its vast support network, from grassroots
organizations to professors of sociology and gender studies to generate
research and information regarding pressing issues facing the LGBTQPAA
community. PLFAG will then take this information and research gathered by its
vast network to create various workshops that take place outside of PFLAG’s
regular monthly meetings. These workshops are tailored to specific groups, such
as parents, educators, students or communities as a whole (PFLAG Toronto). As well,
PFLAG is not affiliated with any ethnic, political or religious organization,
however they do provide links to such organizations on their main PFLAG website,
as they believe such organizations may be able to provide the necessary support
a LGBTQPAA community member or their family may require at that time. (PFLAG
Canada)

 

Strategies

                PFLAG Canada is Canada’s only national organization that offers
peer-to-peer support striving to help all Canadians with issues of sexual
orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Through their network of
60+ grassroots PFLAG support chapters and associated partners, they seek to
strengthen the bond between parent and child, as well as to provide resources
both to youth and parents struggling with gender identity or sexual
orientation. PFLAG was founded to aid parents and children struggling with
sexual identity, however over time PFLAG has evolved and now has no specific
set population that they target to help, as almost everyone now has someone of
LGBTQPAA identity in their lives or within their sphere of being. The issues
facing persons of the LGBTQPAA community are ones that permeate throughout
society and affect us as a whole, from homelessness, difficulty of access to
health services and even increased rates of violence. These are issues that can
affect all Canadians.

PFLAG operates with no ethnic, political or religious affiliations; however,
they have formed coalitions of support networks with organizations that fall
under these categories, such as the United Church of Canada or the Gay Buddhist
Fellowship (PFLAG Canada). As well PFLAG has also partnered with other LGBTQPAA
organizations, research institutions and healthcare providers. Examples of
these organizations include the Canadian rainbow Health coalition, Gay and
lesbian Association of Retiring Persons, QMUNITY, The Canadian Online Journal
for Queer Studies in Education, Canadian Aids society and the Halifax Sexual
Health Center. (PFLAG Canada)

Media Relations

As one of the
first LGBTQPAA organizations within Canada, PFLAG Canada has been able to
create a vast media profile. One of their more compelling media outlets is
their wide selection of personal stories that they are able to share though
their various social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube). By
sharing personal stories, and putting faces behind the stories is a compelling
tool to encourage others to share their experiences and realize that whatever
issues they may be facing they are not alone, others have faced similar
struggles and not only survived but prospered. Stories come from persons from
all walks of life and with different orientations, ethnicities and religious
beliefs, showing that LGBTQPAA issues affect all members of the community
regardless.

With over 60+ chapters
of PFLAG Canada operating autonomously, has allowed various chapters to produce
their own educational material and briefs. Such as the case of PFLAG Toronto
which in conjunction with Central Toronto Youth Services would publish
“Families in Transition: A resource guide for Families of Transgender Youth”
(PFLAG Toronto). By allowing chapters to operate autonomously, PFLAG has given
more power to their vast volunteer network. Meetings are facilitated by the
organizations volunteers and are not required to follow any specific form or
mandate; this allows more freedom within meetings to provide specific aid to
participants.

PFLAG has also
lent its name to various educational resources such as the Gay and Lesbian
Medical Associations publication of “Guidelines for care of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Patients”(Gay
and Lesbian Medical Association 2016) This informative 35 page document
provides health care providers with a sample of guidelines when dealing with
LGBTQPAA patients. Within the publication issues such as creating a welcoming
health care environment, language, staff sensitivity, suggested questions for
LGBTQPAA healthcare forms and additional considerations for physicians when
dealing with Women, Men and Trans. An example that can be taken from this
resource is an issue that will be explored and discussed further during the
LGBTQPAA panel. Is the issue of how to assess and pose questions to Trans
persons. Examples include, not assuming heterosexuality, or the understanding
that discussing genitalia or sex acts may be complicated by the person’s
disassociation with their outward appearance and this can make conversation
particularity sensitive or stressful to someone seeking medical care. It is
imperative that medical practitioners fully understand the sensitivity of
certain issues that may arise during routine medical care, as a perceived or
actual lack of sensitivity can be the difference between someone returning to
seek medical care, or letting issues linger and develop into conditions that
are more serious.

Critical Assessment

Homophobia
and Transphobia has been a constant social issue, encompassing generations and
tearing apart families.  In many
instances homosexuality and transsexuality is a very sensitive topic within
families and many are not willing to talk about their issues publically. The
sensitivity of these internal family issues is an issue PFLAG takes very
seriously, meetings are advertised through local LGBTQPAA channels, however
information is not widely disseminated to the public through social media
campaigns or email blasts as in the case of other organizations. All
information shared such as stories or testimonials remain anonymous unless
otherwise directed so by the person sharing.

As
one of Canada’s first LGBTQPAA support organizations, PFLAG has been one of the
leading organizations when it comes to family relationships. While the majority
of work is done by PFLAG’s 60+ grassroots chapters, its national chapter leaves
a lot to be desired. As LGBTQPAA issues continue to become a larger part of our
social consciousness, PFLAG Canada should be one of the forefront organizations
supporting these communities. By building a strong home life and parental
support system, PFLAG has the opportunity to directly impact the rates of
homeless LGBTQPAA youth. Which is why it is surprising that the organization is
not more vocal when it comes to homelessness, or the potential results from
homelessness such as sex-work. They have a large grassroots support system
behind them, as well as various partners doing work in other social circles,
such as the Canadian Aids society, the united church of Canada, or as
previously mentioned the Central Toronto Youth Services. When policy is
released, or new data is released by statistics Canada, PFLAG has the
opportunity to call upon its vast network of support organizations and direct
volunteers to provide input and create public dialogue surrounding these
issues. As society continues to change and evolve in its core beliefs or
understanding of others, it is crucial that PFLAG uses both its name and
network to lend support to large national issues facing members of the LGBTQPAA
community.

As
noted throughout this evaluation the communities targeted by PFLAG are now
known as LGBTQPAA, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Questioning,
Poly and Allies. Since its inception in the early 1990’s society and those
living within the targeted communities by PFLAG have evolved, and so too should
the name of the organization. Parents for Lesbians and Gays is no longer an
encompassing term that would make all feel welcome, will someone who is
transgender feel welcome? What about those who have no sexual interest in
others? While this may seem like a minor detail to those outside of the
LGBTQPAA community, for those who are directly affected through the ” coming
out” process and the resulting family implications, a name can make all the
difference between feeling welcomed and empowered or unwelcome and powerless.  

Conclusion

                PFLAG is one of Canada’s leading
support organizations for the LGBTQPAA. Through their work they have created
over 60+ grassroots organizations dedicated to education and supporting both
parents and youth dealing with issues related to sexuality and gender identity.
Through partnerships with organizations and educators they have been able to
create and publish various resource guides and support tools for parents and
youth. However there is still work to be done to destigmatize LGBTQPAA persons,
so they do not continue to face mounting issues such as increasing
homelessness, violence and sexual fetishization. While PFLAG and its allies
continue to work towards ending these societal issues, those within the
Cisgendered community should take it upon themselves to be the final A in LGBTQPAA
and truly become Allies to our fellow human beings. 

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