QMUNITY (or Q as their team often calls it) is Vancouver’s oldest non-profit organization and has been working for over 40 years to improve queer, trans, and Two-Spirit lives. Through peer support groups, a wide range of programs and public education, they’ve created a safe space for LGBTQ2SAI+ people and their allies to feel welcomed and included.
Eager to learn more, we gladly accepted QMUNITY’s kind invitation to visit in person. After touring the space and receiving a warm welcome from the staff, we had the privilege to sit down and speak with Anoop Gill (She/Her). Anoop is the Co-Executive Director of Programs and Services and has been with the organization for just over a year.
During our time together, we learned more about the programs and services QMUNITY offers, the challenges and changes brought on by COVID and the need for safe spaces where the LGBTQ2SAI+ community can connect in a world that’s culturally shifting.
Q: We’d love to hear more about your role and work at QMUNITY.
My role here at Q is to ensure innovation, success, a bit of coordination, and general oversight of all the programs and services we offer.
I arrived at QMUNITY last April, and after being here for a year now, I feel so privileged to be able to do the work that I do. I identify as a Sikh, and part of my spiritual and cultural experience is to feel like I’m in service. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to share the stories that come to Q, whether it’s the seniors that are in our senior programming, the folks coming in through the Trans ID Clinic, or hearing about the opportunities that the peer support groups offer to our youth. I think about how systemic change happens, and it’s really the rebellious, loud, remarkably smart, genius voices that are coming through the doors at Q that will make the most impact.
Q: What have been some memorable highlights since you joined QMUNITY?
One thing that stands out is, as a result of COVID, we were able to move more into a provincial space. Historically, if you know Q, we serve the local Davie and Bute area here in Vancouver. This location was strategic as there are a lot of queer organizations situated in this area. While this helps support our local community, there’s the question of what happens to the rural youth, the rural seniors, the folks that really just want to connect but aren’t in this lower mainland resource bubble?
This year I think one of my proudest moments for Q is the creation of a hybrid model for all our programming that offers both a virtual and in-person space. For example, we have our youth drop-in, which happens in person on Fridays, and then once virtually now during the week, allowing youth throughout British Columbia to connect. There is something so similar with everyone’s story about needing connection, which we can now provide in a virtual setting.
As service providers, I think we had a bit of hesitation in trying to use these virtual platforms previous to the pandemic. But what forces change is a necessity, and the need was apparent. It’s exciting that now everybody in British Columbia can connect and access QMUNITY’s resources.
Q: Was it a difficult transition creating this virtual space?
I think it was easier than I or some of our program’s facilitators thought it would be. Access to broadband internet and technology such as computers and software are emerging challenges, but people are finding ways to connect, whether it’s Zooming in on their phones or using more public spaces.
Especially in more marginalized parts of the queer community, like our Q BIPOC folk, it’s so essential to have these spaces to connect. When we think about determinants of health or social determinants of health, social connection is a big part of how we feel well. The pandemic drove us into isolation, but queer folk —or especially queer youth— in this space that are either transitioning or requiring different conversations to feel safe in their bodies, need community. Social connection saves people’s lives.
Q: You speak to a real need in the community for the programs QMUNITY offers. What’s one of your most widely needed programs?
One of our more active, youth-specific programs is the BBB program, which offers bras, binders, and breast forms to youth aged 13 to 25 throughout British Columbia. There’s a great need for this program, and the results are really very meaningful because we know that gender-affirming wear saves lives. It reduces youth’s ideas or negative mental health outcomes, reduces suicidal ideation, reduces self-harm, and allows youth to feel connected and safe to their body as they might navigate different spaces. This is a program that can instantly change a youth’s life.
This program has a waitlist because sometimes we get restricted due to funding and capacity. Currently, our BBB coordination is only part-time when it really could be a full-time role. So we try to keep up with the demand, but that’s the reality of working in a not-for-profit.
Q: For those reading this interview, what are some practical ways they can support the work that QMUNITY does?
When you visit our Instagram or website, you’ll find the things we most need donations for, but one thing that specifically comes to mind is our counselling program. QMUNITY’s program is very specific, because we offer practitioners that have a queer identity or lived experience or offer queer modalities as a form of healthcare and mental health services. This is the only program of its kind in British Columbia, and it’s unfunded. Our counselling and BBB programs are usually the most underfunded programs, so we are constantly looking for ways to bolster them.
That being said, monetary donations are great, but time and skills are also so valuable. Volunteers are a big part of how Q is successful. We have over 94 volunteers that provide skills, time, effort, and engagement on a monthly basis. Recently, I think we determined volunteers contribute roughly a quarter of a million dollars just to our services to make it successful.
Q: It’s been such a pleasure speaking with you. Before we sign off, is there anything you’d like to share with our community?
We are only as successful as the folks involved, whether that’s the many voices that come to be served at Q, or those that feel like they have a responsibility to bolster Q’s work. The queer community is very large and very proud. And so the opportunity exists for us to not only serve community members, but also include allies in our work.
Our culture is changing. If we look at our neighbours across the border, people’s rights, people’s capacity to feel safe… Generally, people’s perception of how they live in this world is starting to change. You have places in the states where trans youth aren’t allowed to live their identities at schools. You have people’s rights being taken away. The basic idea of feeling proud and living in your skin and loving who you want is a topic of conversation that is now contested.
I worry that QMUNITY, like all other organizations, will feel the impact of those cultural changes. And that’s why it’s so important for us to be alive and thriving and offer programs that are innovative and meet the needs of our community. We need organizations like QMUNITY to exist so we can help those in need, and offer people the opportunity to not only belong, but also feel loved and safe.
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