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LGBTQ2S issues focal point in day three of Iqaluit MMIWG hearings

LGBTQ2S Indigenous peoples are burdened with educating the institutions that serve them, discouraging them from getting the help they need, said panelists at the Sept. 12 MMIWG hearing in Iqaluit.

Avery Zingel/NNSL photo
Service providers must be educated in the experiences of LGBTQ2S Indigenous clients to prevent a client reaching "system burnout," testified experts Jasmine Redfern (left) and TJ Lightfoot (right) during the Sept. 12 MMIWG hearings in Iqaluit.

Indigenous women are already "existing in a state of hypersexualization" and experience violence, said Jasmine Redfern, a former health policy analyst, frontline worker and law student.

That violence is compounded for LGBTQ2S Indigenous women, who as a result, interact more often with relevant health and justice institutions where they may be exposed to “additional harm,” said Redfern.

Professionals with deficient knowledge about a client’s experience can cause an individual to experience “system burnout,” particularly in crisis situations, she said.

That harm they experience is largely caused by professionals being undereducated about LGBTQ2S and Indigenous-specific needs in health care and justice, said Redfern and fellow panelist TJ Lightfoot.

Both are experienced front-line workers, who live in Iqaluit and help Indigenous youth access information on sexual and mental health.

Racialized LGBTQ2 people face complex traumas and the onus is often on them to “compartmentalize” aspects of their identity to access care, said Lightfoot.

“We find ourselves having to come out multiple times,” said Lightfoot.

Lightfoot and Redfern testified that the burden of educating professionals in health and social work fields rests on Indigenous and LGBTQ2S clients, forcing them to set aside their immediate needs to cater to the educational needs of a service provider.

"Inuit that are LGBTQ2S have to fight in order to be visible in their everyday life,” said Lightfoot.

Organizations should order external reviews to identify where there are knowledge gaps that would prevent them from serving a diverse clientele, said Redfern.

“The burden on you becomes so high that the perceived benefit of accessing those services can seem to be outweighed. It can be emotionally, spiritually, physically exhausting for the people who have to go through this,” she said.

There are no health institutions in Nunavut that focus explicitly on Indigenous LGBTQ2 people, said Lightfoot.

Policy development should involve LGBTQ2 youth and adults so that a community has policies built for them, rather than “enacted against them,” said Lightfoot.

A scan of services across Nunavut showed that most services that target youth were operated by youth, who struggle to navigate complex funding requirements, said Redfern.

Although services should not be delegated to youth, “nimble” funding and support to navigate financial requirements should be available to youth leaders helping their communities, she said.

Decolonize sexual assault awareness, said panelists

LGBTQ2S people are more likely to face sexual violence in their lifetime, compared to their heterosexual counterparts, said Lightfoot.

Whether they have access to adequate counselling supports and justice on a regular basis will determine their wellbeing, they said.

Redfern advocated for decolonizing sexual assault advocacy by having more nuanced conversations about sexual assault, race and sexuality within the feminist movement.

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the #DecolonizeSAAM hashtag was created through the Save Wįyąbi Project, which brings awareness to the epidemic of sexual and domestic violence against Indigenous women.

The hashtag was created for marginalized clientele to share their experiences and for service providers to understand the needs of their clients, said Redfern.

Though privileged demographics of women and LGBTQ2 folks have achieved greater relative equality and protections, social taboo about issues facing teen parents, Indigenous women and parents using substances creates harm, said Redfern.

“Some of those topics are ones that make a lot of people uncomfortable and they’re conversations we might try to downplay or suppress," said Redfern.

"When we try to tightly control the messaging we don't always get the same diversity of experiences and there might be voices that are more likely to be marginalized," she said.

Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour is an assistant professor at Ryerson University’s School of Social Work.

He testified that social workers are bound to provide services to Indigenous individuals in vulnerable situations.

Students need experiential learning opportunities including guest speakers and off-site work, said McNeil-Seymour.

“Sometimes those conversations turn uncomfortable when people need to hear particular truths,” he said.

“We have to be brave in the conversations that we’re having to reimagine what social work practice can look like,” said McNeil-Seymour.

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