Group offers friendly atmosphere

A new group in the city is looking to provide support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in our city.

The LGBT Social Group, which meets bi-weekly at the Yorkton Mental Health Drop-In Centre Inc. located in SIGN on North

83 North Street, is designed to offer members a safe place to connect with others facing the same challenge.

The group organized through SIGN is something which was needed participants told Yorkton This Week in a recent group interview.

"I actually phoned around," said Shirley, her name changed at her request. "I was looking for something."

So when Shirley saw a poster for the social group she was immediately interested because it was a way to connect with others.

"I don't have any gay friends, people to connect with."

Kate too, said she had been looking for some way to connect with others, noting there is "support being in a group of people."

Living in Yorkton makes public connections difficult, said Kate.

"I used to live in Calgary and had a wide range of friends there," she said, but in Yorkton that had not happened. She added having "a group of friends you can connect with on a different level" is important.

Shirley said she faced a similar culture change on settling in Yorkton.

"I was part of the gay community in another province. When I moved here I really missed that," she said.

Shirley said it is helpful to have a support network of others who can understand "the kind of relationships that I am in."

Not everyone participating in the group is gay or lesbian.

Mark is straight, but he participates as way of "offering support" for those facing the challenges of an alternate lifestyle. "For me it's more about supporting gender equality."

Helping build community understanding and acceptance is something group participants say is needed in Yorkton, a city where they say it more difficult to be openly gay without facing repercussions.

"It's the hardest place I've ever lived," said Shirley. "I think people are under educated. There are a lot of stereotypes out there."

Not being able to be open about your sexuality is difficult, said Kate, who said you are left feeling you are "not being true to yourself" when you must live in anonymity.

Shirley agreed it is not easy locally.

"I want to be more open, but don't," she said.

In Kate's case her current girlfriend has not even 'come out' to family and friends, so they can't even be together on holidays and similar events because the girl's family does not know.

It is part of living in Yorkton where taking the step to come out to even close friends is a bigger step. Kate said when she told her friends she lost some of them.

Shirley said it is not easy to meet other gays and lesbians in the city.

"I can't say hi I'm Shirley. I'm gay," she said with a smile.

"Some people just aren't OK with that," agreed Kate, adding it's little things like that which create the challenges they face, and why the need a support group of people who understand what they are dealing with.

Kate said people don't always appreciate how little opportunity there is in a city like Yorkton to socialize with other gays and lesbians.

It is not unusual for her straight friends to invite her to a local bar or club, but she doubts most would accept an invitation to a gay bar, if one even existed in Yorkton.

Kate said it is harder for gays to come out. Two women dancing together, or living together, does not draw a lot of attention.

Two men doing the same thing would.

"That's why it's so hard for males to come to this group. I get a lot of calls but they have come," said coordinator Kelly Bucsis.

As hard as it is for group members as adults, it can be more difficult for gay students.

"It's very hard for people in the schools," offered Kate.

Shirley said had it been easier to come out in high school "I would never have been interested in men."

But she tried to conform, going as far as a marriage which did not last.

"If there was more education back them," she offered.

Living the life of conformity actually made eventually being honest with herself, family and friends harder.

"I was married before so that was really confusing to people.'How could you get married if you knew?'" she said.

Kate was on the same path.

"I had a boyfriend all through high school," she said, adding that was the case even though "I didn't want one."

But she conformed, because she worried how her being lesbian "would reflect on my family."

Coming out is something that takes courage, and usually time.

"It takes years to really come out," said Kaye, noting the first step is accepting it yourself, and then you tell family, close friends, and then hope for the day you can be open to the world about who you are.

George is First Nations, and gay. He said in his case coming out was not really an option.

"They all knew I was gay, the way I acted, the way I dressed," he said. "So I didn't really have to come out."

But that meant facing ridicule in high school.

"I got teased in high school. I was bullied," he said, adding the abuse got to the point "When I was in Grade 9 I wanted to take my own life."

Carol is not lesbian, but she was at the meeting too, noting she has gay friends and is supportive of their lifestyle. She said she knows two gay students facing challenges.

"They both struggle," she said, adding they also "struggle with alcohol addiction, which may be related."

While Carol said the two girls "are both confident" in who they are, they face pressure as lesbians in a community where acceptance is not as widespread as it should be.

Certainly the education system plays a role in helping society understand the sexuality of gays and lesbians.

Carol said it has come up with local school division teachers in terms of their being aware of gay students, but in the classroom "it's rarely a topic that comes up."

Surprisingly television may be helping in the education with more openly gay and lesbian characters, roles not just stereotypes, but strong roles.

"It's nice to be able to relate to somebody on television," offered Kate.

At present the Social Group is small, with the largest turnout being 20, said Bucsis, but that is only a portion of the gay and lesbian community in the city.

"There's lots of people that inquire about it," she said.

But again walking into the group is a big step for many still unsure about coming out to others.

Shirley said the group is there to help with the process, adding it helps "to relate with someone who is just like you

"I would hope we'd only get bigger as the word gets out there."

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