Just over two years ago, Planned Parenthood set out to conduct comprehensive research studies of the Scarborough area in an effort to determine what services were available to LGBTQ+ Youth.
They discovered that there were little to no services available in the Scarborough area. An alarming revelation considering the fact that a study by the Canadian Mental Health Association found that LGBTQ+ youth face significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and substance abuse, and are 14 times more likely than their heterosexual peers to commit suicide.
“If youth have no safe space where they can be nurtured and supported, terrible things happen,” said Cheri DiNovo, MPP and advocate for trans human rights – DiNovo was responsible for passing Bill 33, Toby’s Act, in 2012 which amended the Ontario Human Rights Code to include gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds against discrimination.
Recognizing a strong need for services and safe places for the local LGBTQ+ community, Birchcliff Bluffs United Church decided to take the situation into their own hands. After learning about the Planned Parenthood study and conducting some research of their own, they created Toby’s Place – a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth and their friends where everyone who enters is welcomed with open arms regardless of faith, race or sexual orientation.
Both Bill 33 and the Birchcliff Bluffs drop-in program are named after Toby Dancer, a transgender person and member of the congregation who, despite frequently experiencing rejection and cruelty outside the walls of the church, always had time for others in need.
Dancer was described by Reverend Christine Smaller as “a remarkable individual who, in many ways was the heart of the congregation. A calming presence, a beacon of spirituality, and an incredible gospel choir director.”
Dancer passed away at 51 years old after suffering a drug overdose, but those who knew her vowed that she would not be forgotten.
Toby’s Place aims to continue to honour Dancer’s memory by offering a weekly program that will act as a safe and positive space for LGBTQ+ youth to connect and foster a sense of community by providing a place where members can speak openly, participate in fun activities and have a meal together without fear of judgment.
The program is founded on four main values: participant-centered and non-judgmental, respectful and inclusive, collegial and collaborative, and spiritual growth and wholeness.
In addition to offering a safe place for youth to connect, Toby’s Place looks to arm members with the tools and skills they require in order to succeed in their lives. They plan to do that through educational programming around a number of topics that include life skills such as interview preparation, financial skills training, school applications, and health and wellness including topics such as ensuring nutrition on a limited budget.
Toby’s Place will operate out of Birchcliff Bluffs United Church on 33 East Road, but the official launch date is still to be determined. For more information please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.