Feds unveil $15M in funds for 76 LGBTQ community projects

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OTTAWA -- With pandemic-related closures and restrictions limiting the ways LGBTQ Canadians can gather and access community-specific supports, the federal government is hoping a new series of small grants will give dozens of community projects a boost.

From $400,000 in funding for a national initiative aimed at expanding two-spirit advocacy, to $239,000 to improve LGBTQ youth housing access in the Prairies, 76 community groups are being sent nearly $15 million from the federal Liberals to help build up their capacity to do things like hire staff and solidify organizational structures.

Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger and Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef made the announcement Thursday morning, after the call for proposals went live last spring.

“As we continue our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, we must also work to build up and support strength and resiliency, wherever we can,” said Chagger on Thursday. “It is crucial that organizations serving LGBTQ individuals from coast to coast to coast are supported with the means to do their important and life-saving work.”

In an interview with CTVNews.ca Chagger said the recipients will be receiving the funding in short order, after working out contribution agreements with the federal government, noting that some projects have already gotten underway.   

Known as the LGBTQ2 Community Capacity Fund and first announced in the 2019 federal budget, the intent is to put federal dollars towards strengthening organizations that are focused on advancing equality among Canadians of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.

In Atlantic Canada, eight organizations are receiving a combined $1.5 million in funds. This includes a project to create a network of service providers in Newfoundland and Labrador, and an initiative to develop culturally-relevant resources for underrepresented queer youth in Nova Scotia.

One group, the Two-Spirit Alliance, is receiving more than $299,000 to hire staff and develop a strategic plan. Speaking at Thursday’s announcement, interim executive director John R Sylliboy said that the group was formed a decade ago in response to community suicides.

“Since then, we've had an ongoing volunteer-based organization that has mobilized knowledge, shared resources, we've collaborated with organizations around the region to try to get our word out there that we need to build support, we need to advocate… Now this resource provides an extraordinary opportunity to build even more capacity,” Sylliboy said.

Nineteen Quebec organizations are being given a combined $3.6 million in funding, including to consultation projects to better understand the challenges of marginalized LGBTQ families, and specific needs of the province’s trans communities.

In Ontario, 26 groups are receiving a combined $4 million in funding. The money will go towards projects such as making long-term care homes, rehabilitation centres, and retirement homes more inclusive in Windsor, Ont., and to improve community programs in several cities and towns such as improving access to gender-affirming medical care.

Toronto-based Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line is receiving $299,500 to expand its services across the region. Speaking at Thursday’s event, executive director Berkha Gupta said that amid the pandemic the youth line’s phone and text services have seen a 30 per cent increase in demand from Canadians across the country.

“We try to support them as much as possible within our infrastructure,” Gupta said. “Thanks to this funding we will be able to develop regional and population-based networks.”

Eleven community groups in the Prairies are being given a combined $2.5 million in funds, including groups focused on francophone queer communities and to develop new LGBTQ centres in the region.

And, 12 organizations in British Columbia and the territories are receiving a total of $3 million, to boost area pride celebrations and engage racialized voices within communities.

“The purpose of this investment is to ensure that the organizations who know their communities best have the capacity to do what they need to do to create greater safety and quality of life,” said Monsef on Thursday. 

While this funding is largely going to groups that want to build up their organizational structures, the federal government is facing calls for additional supports in other areas, such as for LGBTQ business owners, and for increased mental health funding.

Chagger said that groups looking for future specific supports should submit pitches through the current federal budget consultations.  

The long-promised end of the blood donation ban for gay men and some other folks in the LGBTQ community also remains in place, years after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed it’d be eradicated. 

The ban is something that the minister said she remains committed to seeing lifted, and said the government is currently waiting on the requests from Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Quebec to change the deferral period.

“We need that request to come, and we would like them to make their decision on evidence and science,” she said. “We know it needs to be done.” 

The federal government is in the process of creating an LGBTQ-specific “action plan” and has been seeking feedback to “better understand” the lived realities of queer Canadians, through a survey.

The survey seeks to fill information gaps as they relate to health, housing, safety, and employment. 

Submissions are being accepted until the end of this month. 

The government is aiming to release a report summarizing what the survey found, and will be holding virtual roundtables between now and June on the action plan. Chagger said that work will need to happen before she’d be able to commit to when the action plan would be made public.

“Let's say you know, there's very clear themes and it's very straightforward, it’s a different story. If it's a lot more comprehensive and all of a sudden there's light being shed on areas we did not know because of the realities of the pandemic or whatever else, we need to look at the situation in front of us,” she said. “We want to make sure that it's a document that actually informs government and works for the people it's there to serve.”