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Mentors with lived experience key for local 2SLGBTQ+ youth

4 MIN READ

“When I was growing up, I didn’t really have anybody to talk to or role models in the LGBTQ+ community. So, for me, being on the flipside, being a grown-up, having gone through the struggles—figuring out who I was, what my place is—it means so much to me to be that person.”

Informal mentoring networks have long been a part of 2SLGBTQ+ communities. Through them, the communities have made great strides, yet 2SLGBTQ+ youth continue to face barriers.

From interactions at school, family relationships, workplace inclusion, or simply feeling comfortable in their own skin, local youth may need a helping hand as they walk their path to pride.

That’s why, with the support of United Way East Ontario, Big Brothers Big Sisters Ottawa is launching an innovative mentorship program, PRISM (Pride Respect Identity Safety Mentoring).

Sandra and Teigan, both of whom identify as members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, have been matched as mentor and mentee for years already, but they are thrilled to see the development of a specific program aimed at fostering their type of relationship.

“Having someone that I can get advice through and having a mentor like Sandra has really helped me because I don’t have too much support like that in my life,” said Teigan. “Having a mentor like her, opened me up to see that I don’t need labels. I don’t need to know who I am, completely. [She encourages me] just to be who I am.”

“There’s so much pressure to know the answers and to sort of put a label on yourself and to know exactly who you are,” added Sandra. “I’m so happy to be able to show her and talk to her about how it’s normal to not have the answers at her age.”

Teigan says getting advice from someone with lived experience has given her more confidence in her day-to-day life.

“I’ve been able to be with my partner now for almost a decade,” explained Sandra. “I can show [Teigan] our relationship. She can sort of see what it’s like to be able to land on your feet, and to me it means the world to be able to give back to Teigan and the community.”

Leading with lived experience

Big Brothers Big Sisters Ottawa’s Director of Programs and Community Partnerships Brianna Dusome is guiding PRISM. 

They organize focus groups for children and youth to have a voice in the mentoring programs and support they receive. The focus groups impact the growth and evolution of the BBBSO agency, to provide equitable services and to support the diverse and unique needs of each individual and family in our community.

They say they lead with lived experience.

“I am passionate about this work,” said Brianna, who identifies as a Non-binary, Afro-Indigenous, Transracial adoptee.

“In my life, I have been impacted by formal and informal mentoring. This informs who I am as a person. Mentoring, informal or formal, is important for the development of children and youth—to see themselves represented, for them to be around people who get it and to build those skills and capacity to expand their networks of support. I think that creating different programs where there are people that have walked, and are still walking, a similar path, is really important.”

According to BBBSO, research shows that formal mentoring programs are a powerful, protective factor for 2SLGBTQ+ youth as they develop their own unique sense of self.

“With our identity, we have different intersections, and it can be really hard to understand that and to make sense of it. Having a mentor can help with that,” Brianna continued. “It can help you understand the intersections and how there is space for it all in your identity. You can be biracial. You can be an adoptee and navigate being in two families. You can be two-spirit and LGBTQ+. All are important parts of who you are.”

Brianna adds, having someone who is further along in their understanding of intersectionality of identity to help navigate is a big advantage.

And it’s not just the mentees that get the benefit of the Big-Little relationship, says Sandra.

“[Teigan’s] going through this in 2022, so the world has completely changed [from when I was her age]. I’m so impressed with her and her friends and the way that they’re not satisfied with the status quo, they’re always pushing the boundaries. I learn new terminology. I learn, just this new way of acceptance through her and her peers, that I didn’t get to experience when I was her age. So, I am absolutely loving it. She’s teaching me something new every day.”

Finding and connecting 2SLGBTQ+ Bigs and Littles

When seeking mentors, Brianna says BBBSO looks for people who are able to meet mentees where they are on their journeys.

“Seeing a mentee who sees themselves represented in a mentor—seeing their enthusiasm and excitement for life and for their journey—is really impactful and shows that the work we are doing is having a positive impact on the community.”

Brianna says the positive results they see pushes them to strive to evolve and continue to meet the diverse and unique needs within our communities. As PRISM evolves, Brianna says they plan to hold focus groups to convene with people who are already a part of their programs, but also through community partnerships.

“We want youth to have a role and a voice in implementing impactful mentoring programs.”

Teigan and Sandra, Big Brothers Big Sisters Ottawa

For a community to be great, it must be great for everyone

Whether you identify as 2SLGBTQ+ or are just someone who stands up for inclusion, everyone is on their own unique path to pride. United Way is committed to fostering open and inclusive communities—this means helping create safe spaces where kids and families can talk about their experiences, be supported and represented.

Thanks to our donors, we can invest funds where they are needed most and will have the greatest impact. Together, we can ensure our 2SLGBTQ+ community thrives.

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