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2SLGBTQ+ in BTFD

How our queer community navigates the city.

Maichina Veri, June 20, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioHumans of Brantford.  Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio. 

 

This small city is central to many vibrant and unique communities. We all have a home in Brantford, though some feel more at home than others. While City Hall has raised numerous flags for various groups, some wonder if the flags signify progressive change or mere performative allyship. BTOWN reached into the rainbow to find how members of our queer community feel in the Telephone City.

Overall, the folks we spoke with feel safe in Brantford, though that affirmative answer comes with hesitation. Taylor Berzins, 29, who identifies as queer, is a counsellor and advocate at the Sexual Assault Centre of Brant. “It’s complicated,” offers Taylor. “I love that it’s a town that seems to be trying, but it’s also a kind of town that you feel like you have to look over your shoulder when you’re at queer events, particularly big, public queer events.”

Freddie Hawse, an 18-year-old working student who identifies as queer and non-binary, says school can be “terrifying” as a queer youth. “I get called slurs daily and get scrutinized just for existing. Our gender-neutral bathroom is constantly vandalized with hateful words about the LGBTQ+ community. It is hard to feel safe when it seems like so many people are out to get you just for being who you were born to be.” Away from the bullying at school, Freddie also receives “dirty” looks from old men and says misgendering is a huge struggle for them in Brantford.

 

Members of Brantford's 2SLGBTQ+ community Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio. 

 

“If you can kind of fit into the societal norm, it’s a little bit easier,” says Erica James, 54, a transgender woman living in Brantford who acknowledges that it's easier for her than some others. She has had a few comments in the city, and only one real altercation in front of her house, yet engages folks in an educational way. Erica is running for Ward 2 councillor in Brantford and has spoken at several events, including the Haldimand-Norfolk Pride event in 2018 when protesters came and disturbed the celebrations. She had to move her stage to a picnic table to address her audience.

Rosie Slaughter, 35, and Chris Burk, 37, have been a couple for about 15 years. The main struggle they’ve faced together was finding a trans-friendly doctor for Rosie’s top surgery. “I ran into issues trying to get top surgery because my family doctor, for religious reasons, did not feel comfortable signing the paperwork. I understand there are trans-friendly doctors in Brantford now – I’m aware of them now. It would have been nice five years ago to have known.”

 

Members of Brantford's 2SLGBTQ+ community.  Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.  

 

Chris speaks to the frustration with navigating the doctor with Rosie, however the larger issues he has had in town relate to being a disabled person rather than a queer person. “For the most part, my queerness doesn’t come up in my interactions with people, outside of Rosie.” Chris recognizes that he doesn’t have presentation issues in regard to being queer and this could play into having fewer struggles because he looks like a “regular dude.”

 

"It goes without saying that Brantford could improve its treatment of its queer community. Interviewees spoke to having more open queer environments, specifically a community centre, cafe or bar. Also brought up was the importance of space for queer youth. The positive effects of these spaces, when available, have been good for Freddie. They speak about a dance organized in Paris for queer kids. 'It was an incredible experience. To be around like-minded people who accept you as you are is validating and comforting.'"

 

In the end, Rosie had to travel to Toronto to receive the medical attention they needed. Compared to places like Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and surrounding cities, Rosie finds Brantford to be “drastically” behind when it comes to its queer community. Taylor, who has lived in Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo, says there are events “left, right and centre” in these other cities and that Pride is a year-long activity, not just a signal in June.

It goes without saying that Brantford could improve its treatment of its queer community. Interviewees spoke to having more open queer environments, specifically a community centre, cafe or bar. Also brought up was the importance of space for queer youth. The positive effects of these spaces, when available, have been good for Freddie. They speak about a dance organized in Paris for queer kids. “It was an incredible experience. To be around like-minded people who accept you as you are is validating and comforting.”

 

Members of Brantford's 2SLGBTQ+ community.  Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio. 

 

More than having safe, open community hubs in Brantford, there needs to be improvement in the treatment of individuals on a personal level. Taylor brings up the difference between true, direct action and rainbow washing (which is defined as publicly showing support for the 2SLGBTQ+ community, but privately engaging in practices that are harmful to the community). Erica mentions while people are kind to her face, she knows she is purposefully misgendered behind her back.

Furthermore, Unite Against Hate!, an anti-racist organization in the city with an online space to report hate crimes, received a message from a youth whose friend was physically assaulted by an adult male for being queer. The crime was not reported to the police because the victim is not out to their family, but the friend knew it was important to record the incident somewhere – even if it was to an anti-racist organization. Taylor, Erica, Rosie and Chris have noted minimal confrontation – though slurs and religious trauma have been experienced. Freddie has been preyed on, specifically by men, as they were shy, queer and vulnerable. “People told me I was ‘too pretty to be gay’ and asked if they could try to turn me straight.”

 

"This being said, Brantford still has its beautiful queer moments. Rosie and Chris find most people they’ve met in the queer community to be 'wonderful' people. The two are adjacently aware of community groups and resources, something that Erica and Taylor are both respectively involved in. Freddie acknowledges, 'While Brantford is nowhere near perfect, it’s doing its best to continuously make its community more inclusive and safer for those in the LGBTQ+ community.'"

 

This being said, Brantford still has its beautiful queer moments. Rosie and Chris find most people they’ve met in the queer community to be “wonderful” people. The two are adjacently aware of community groups and resources, something that Erica and Taylor are both respectively involved in. Freddie acknowledges, “While Brantford is nowhere near perfect, it’s doing its best to continuously make its community more inclusive and safer for those in the LGBTQ+ community.”

 

Members of Brantford's 2SLGBTQ+ community.  Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.

 

Taylor also mentions an app they use called Queering the Map. “You can put little pins on it of moments or places that are special in your queer journey. When I first was kind of discovering my queerness and figuring things out, I went on Queering the Map and found these little pins in Brantford of ‘this is the bench where we first held hands’ and ‘this is the bridge where we kissed for the first time.’ Just people sharing these moments of queer intimacy in Brantford – that was so lovely. There are other people like me here! That felt super amazing.”

Our community is amazing and strong not despite our differences, but because of them. When we take time to acknowledge and celebrate each other with compassion and respect good things happen, and we want good things. For some queer community resources, please see the links below.

Brantford Pride - CLICK HERE

The Bridge Brant - CLICK HERE

Gender Journey Brant - CLICK HERE

Grand River Community Health Centre - CLICK HERE

WorQshop - CLICK HERE

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maichina Veri is a writer based in Brantford, Ontario. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Montreal’s Concordia University and has a background in Journalism – Print from Niagara College. 

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Paul Smith has been shooting photos professional for the past eleven years. After graduating from Applied Photography at Sheridan College in 2008 he returned to Brantford and opened Photohouse Studios with his partner. 

 

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2 comments

  • The St Paul Family Health network, and especially Dr Bernadette McNeil, is very trans friendly. Whole office immediately adapted to the name and pronoun change, got us on multiple wait lists and referred us to many different resources, and has supported and signed off on everything necessary.

    Mike
  • I’m saddened to hear how far behind our city is concerning our LGBTQ community! Many of the best people l know are gay. My life has been so enriched by their friendship & love 🏳️‍🌈 I can’t understand why people have to rush to judge others without even getting to know them first! My
    favourite cousin lives in Toronto with his partner. He found Brantford to be pitifully close-minded and bigoted towards the LGBTQ community. Reading this article just reminds me of how much work that still needs to be done. I couldn’t bear it if all of my friends began moving away….
    My life & the lives of many others would truly feel the terrible loss. Education & open-mindedness are the keys to at least start a dialogue… We have a long ways to go, but l pray that we get to a place of equality & acceptance for everyone 🏳️‍🌈☮️

    Gail

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