Stratford, Ontario Gets First-Ever LGBTQ2S+ Community Centre

Written on 08/09/2021
Staff Columnist

A group of Stratford, Ontario residents, have created the city's first-ever LGBTQ2S+ community centre — CBC News reported.

The space will operate virtually and serve as an information centre for visitors and residents of Stratford and Perth County.

A physical space will open next year, and it will have a lending library and social hub with coffee groups, game nights and more.

"Different businesses or organizations were doing one thing or another, but unless you knew about it, to begin with, you didn't really know what to go look for," said Bruce Skeaff, senior organizer of the Stratford Pride Community Centre (SPCC).

"So we thought, well, that means that there is a need for an information hub and not just for pride month, but all-year-round."

Believe it or not, Skeaff only relocated to Stratford in November 2020. He told CBC News that as a middle-aged gay man, he was disappointed that there were no places in the region that could help him feel more at home.

"Questions arise like 'How do we find a welcoming real estate agent? How do we find a welcoming doctor, who doesn't make it seem so funny because you're gay, or lesbian, or trans?'" added Skeaff.

"These are the kinds of ordinary questions that people ask, and they're not being answered easily and easily found."

The inspiration came from a University of Waterloo study by research assistant Dayna Prest asking if queer people feel a sense of community in Stratford.

In the research, Prest found that the feeling of community is connected to gender and sexuality. Transgender and non-binary participants said they felt less comfortable in the Stratford area compared to cisgender respondents. They also hoped to find a way to be connected to the LGBTQ2S+ in the area.

The new centre aims to fill that void by hosting social activities and events for members and information about  LGBTQ2S+ friendly restaurants, mental health services, doctors' offices, and more.

"Two weeks ago, we sent a letter out to about 200 different businesses and organizations in town ... and the replies we got back were just stupendous," said Skeaff.

Stratford psychotherapist, Jennifer Jennings, thinks the community centre was much needed in Stratford, and she expressed it in a media release.

"What [Skeaff is] doing sounds like what Stratford needs and something many queer and trans people I've talked with have said they are missing from the community," she said in the release.

Skeaff hopes to create a more accepted and uplifted LGBTQ2S+ community in Stratford through the new centre.

"I think it's a given that when your citizens are happy and healthy, then you're going to have a happy and healthy community — and that means everybody, not just one particular group," he explained.

"People should feel safe where they're living, being able to live a healthy life and feel welcomed."

(Image Credit: Cory Smith/The Beacon Herald)