Within remote and rural regions of Canada, there are particular challenges facing youth who identify as LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Two-Spirit and additional sexual orientations and gender identities). Studies have shown that LGBTQIA2S+ people experience higher rates of mental health issues, which are heightened by exposure to societal and institutional prejudices. These social ills can be keenly felt within rural areas, where traditional gender norms may be more deeply entrenched and where there may be fewer opportunities to socialize than in urban centres. Responding to these challenges, a growing number of online networks are finding innovative ways for LGBTQIA2S+ youth to share messages of hope and build supportive connections.
Intersectionality and Mental Health
Developing an awareness of systemic difficulties is the first step to overcoming them. Socio-economic factors such as income and access to resources play a significant role in a person’s mental health, as the Canadian Mental Health Association emphasizes. It’s important to recognize how multiple forms of marginalization (e.g. racism, sexism, poverty, and disability) can converge, a phenomenon known as intersectionality. While everyone’s lived experience is different, the social determinants of health cannot be ignored. In the cases of LGBTQAI2S+ youth, experiences of bullying and alienation may exacerbate mental health challenges. The very process of “coming out” (sharing one’s gender and/or sexual identity with others) might result in rejection, violence, or alienation.
Geography is a significant factor in shaping identity, and demographic features such as population size can impact how discrimination operates. In 2019, a survey conducted by the Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre (SARVAYC) highlighted some sobering trends within rural Canada. Of the 149 trans and/or non-binary youth who participated in the surey, 39% reported experiences of cyberbullying, and 42% reported not getting physical health care when needed because they did not want their parents to know. A recent National Observer article on the mental health struggles of rural youth in the Northern Vancouver Island region underscored the heightened difficulties faced by LGBTQIA2S+ youth during the COVID-19 crisis.
These systemic issues require targeted interventions, including creating opportunities for young people (both LGBTQIA2S+ youth and their allies) to take an active role in shaping their environment. Online platforms can redefine the way we understand community, and small local initiatives can have a tremendous impact on combating stigma and promoting inclusion.
Fighting Stigma and Forging Connections
The journey toward a more open-minded, compassionate, and resilient community starts with small, often personal, steps. One way to start changing the culture among young people is to pursue anti-bullying initiatives, such as those promoted by the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network). Another way is through peer support groups, which can bridge the gaps created by lack of professional support services and empower participants to find and discover their unique strengths. A recent study of how peer advocate programs have supported LGBTQIA2S+ mental health in rural New Mexico has underscored this approach’s effectiveness. Much can be done by approaching emotional and social wellness through the lens of shared personal experiences.
Increasingly, online platforms are using the power of storytelling to overcome the strain of isolation and alienation. It Gets Better EDU features a variety of personal stories and educational resources designed to support LGBTQIA2S+ youth. This global initiative shares the uplifting, empowering message that all of us, especially those living in more isolated circumstances, need to hear: you are not alone. Another source of connection for LGBTQIA2S+ folks ages 13 to 24 can be found in TrevorSpace, an international community supported through the Trevor Project, based in the United States.
Within Canada, LGBTQIA2S+ youth and their friends and families can find resources, inspiration, and peer support through PFlag Canada, a national organization dedicated to promoting education, acceptance, and community. PFLag’s initiatives are divided into local chapters to help Canadians access practical support that is specific to their region. There are also a growing number of provincial services. The Rainbow Resource Centre provides education, support groups, and counseling to Manitoba’s LGBTQIA2S+ communities, and the LGBT Youthline offers confidential and non-judgemental peer support to young people throughout Ontario (phone, text, or live chat available Sunday to Friday, 4:00pm – 9:30pm). Youth in crisis anywhere in Canada can find support services 24/7 through the Kids Help Phone, which also offers specific resources on identifying and coming out as LGBTQIA2S+.
The wounds of isolation and discrimination are very real, yet still there is hope. Rising numbers of local and virtual communities are sending the messages of courage and strength that can help LGBTQIA2S+ youth find acceptance and happiness, and help all of us work together to build a more open-minded and open-hearted world.
Quick List of Supports for Rural Canadian LGBTQIA2S+ Youth
Kids Help Phone: https://kidshelpphone.ca/
24/7 support for youth anywhere in Canada
Live phone chat: 1-800-668-6868 (available 24/7)
Text (SMS): 686868 (available 24/7)
Live Chat Online Counselling (available 7pm to midnight ET)
*Youth who identify as Indigenous can ask to be connected with a First Nations, Inuk or Metis crisis responder by messaging FIRST NATIONS, INUIT, or METIS to 686868
LGBT Youthline: https://www.youthline.ca/
Peer support for youth anywhere in Ontario
Available Sunday to Friday, 4:00pm – 9:30pm
1-800-268-9688 or text 647-694-4275
Trans Lifeline: https://translifeline.org/
Peer support hotline run by and for trans and questioning people.
Available 5pm ET to 1am ET, 7 days per week
Phone (Canada): 1-877-330-6363
Phone (US): 1-877-565-8860
Peer Support, Storytelling, and Community Building:
Trans Care BC Peer Support (includes directory with information about specific community services): http://www.phsa.ca/transcarebc/care-support/peer-community-support/peer-support
PFlag Canada (National Support with Local Chapters): https://pflagcanada.ca/.
Rainbow Resource Centre (Manitoba): https://rainbowresourcecentre.org/.
It Gets Better Edu: https://itgetsbetter.org/.