Youth worker helps LGTBQ young people in Rexdale

Community May 17, 2017 by David Nickle Etobicoke Guardian

Rexdale was not kind to Terrence Rodriguez.

Seventeen years ago, Rodriguez – biologically female at the time – came out to his family as a lesbian.

“I had Holy Water sprinkled on me,” recalled Rodriguez. “Half of my family disowned me.”

At 14 years old, Rodriguez left the Roman Catholic school he was attending, Monsignor Percy Johnson, and enrolled in Kipling Collegiate. When he later concluded that he needed to transition, it didn’t get any better – finding that many in the school’s large cohort of socially conservative Muslim students were just as unwelcoming as the Roman Catholic kids from Monsignor Johnson.

“I didn’t really escape it,” he said. “I was always looking over my shoulder – people were heckling me, following me home from school, writing graffiti on my locker. I think the scariest was that there was a perception by males in the community that all I had to do was have sexual relations with them and I would change my mind.”

In 2003 Rexdale under those circumstances, Rodriguez felt he had a stark choice.

“Do I stay in the closet and be safe, or do I come out and look over my shoulder? And I realized I may have to watch over my shoulder, but I would be safe because I wouldn’t have the threat of self-harm or committing suicide. That was the ultimate fear.”

Rodriguez made the comments far from Etobicoke, just after he had finished speaking at the Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) flag raising this month at Toronto City Hall, on behalf of the organization he founded in 2012, Rex Pride.

Rodriguez started the organization after having spent time as a youth worker, who because of his identity was frequently referred cases of young people struggling with their sexual and gender identities. He eventually got tired of simply referring those people to agencies in downtown Toronto, and saw a need to establish a local agency to help his young clients deal with their sexuality in the community in which they lived.

In a real sense, the organization is a response to Rodriguez’ experience: growing up queer on the edges of a city that is arguably internationally famous for its openness to LGBTQ people.

“Rexdale is definitely a different experience from that expectation,” said Rodriguez. “A lot of people forget that the GTA is not just the downtown core. In Rexdale alone there are over 60,000 people. And you never hear anybody saying anything about coming out. That’s because as soon as you do, you literally put yourself at risk for being attacked. The reporting for hate crimes is zero in that area, but I know for a fact that they’re high.”

The area has challenges in common with many poorer inner suburban neighbourhoods. There is first the physical isolation, which makes it a challenge in terms of finances and time to travel to downtown neighbourhoods where LGTBQ communities are thicker on the ground.

Rodriguez said he’s found that the very diversity that enriches Rexdale also makes it more difficult for LGBTQ young people to come out honestly, as newcomer groups often isolate themselves and hold close to old sexual and social mores.

And finally, there are simple socioeconomic factors.

“It’s a lower income neighbourhood, people are living in poverty, dealing with issues with that, and racially profiled people. You have gangs and violence – so that the queer community is completely suppressed and isolated,” he said.

Rex Pride is an effort to break through that isolation. The group meets at the Rexdale Community Health Centre at 2267 Islington Ave. in several sessions. There’s a Queer Media Arts Program on Tuesdays from 4 to 8 p.m., and training programs for those that want to mentor youth, and affect social change in the community.

It is, Rodriguez acknowledges, a big job. The group, which currently is helping 20 youth, has received a four-year Trillium Ontario grant to do outreach in the community – and so far has partnered with four area schools to help make for a safer environment for LGTBQ young people.

“It’s not a Band-Aid fix,” he said. “People say, oh do training for an hour? That’s not enough. For community work there has to be an idea of what’s going on. There’s the policies and procedures reviews (for institutions). There is the staff training, a minimum one day and has to be followed up annually.”

And for the young people Rex Pride helps?

“I have my journey, we all have our own journeys, but I can’t tell anyone what their journey is,” said Rodriguez at the podium below the Rainbow flag at City Hall. “We don’t tell people what they need to do. We just let them tell us what they need from us.”

Youth worker helps young people deal with LGBTQ issues in Rexdale

Community May 17, 2017 by David Nickle Etobicoke Guardian

Rexdale was not kind to Terrence Rodriguez.

Seventeen years ago, Rodriguez – biologically female at the time – came out to his family as a lesbian.

“I had Holy Water sprinkled on me,” recalled Rodriguez. “Half of my family disowned me.”

At 14 years old, Rodriguez left the Roman Catholic school he was attending, Monsignor Percy Johnson, and enrolled in Kipling Collegiate. When he later concluded that he needed to transition, it didn’t get any better – finding that many in the school’s large cohort of socially conservative Muslim students were just as unwelcoming as the Roman Catholic kids from Monsignor Johnson.

“I didn’t really escape it,” he said. “I was always looking over my shoulder – people were heckling me, following me home from school, writing graffiti on my locker. I think the scariest was that there was a perception by males in the community that all I had to do was have sexual relations with them and I would change my mind.”

In 2003 Rexdale under those circumstances, Rodriguez felt he had a stark choice.

“Do I stay in the closet and be safe, or do I come out and look over my shoulder? And I realized I may have to watch over my shoulder, but I would be safe because I wouldn’t have the threat of self-harm or committing suicide. That was the ultimate fear.”

Rodriguez made the comments far from Etobicoke, just after he had finished speaking at the Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) flag raising this month at Toronto City Hall, on behalf of the organization he founded in 2012, Rex Pride.

Rodriguez started the organization after having spent time as a youth worker, who because of his identity was frequently referred cases of young people struggling with their sexual and gender identities. He eventually got tired of simply referring those people to agencies in downtown Toronto, and saw a need to establish a local agency to help his young clients deal with their sexuality in the community in which they lived.

In a real sense, the organization is a response to Rodriguez’ experience: growing up queer on the edges of a city that is arguably internationally famous for its openness to LGBTQ people.

“Rexdale is definitely a different experience from that expectation,” said Rodriguez. “A lot of people forget that the GTA is not just the downtown core. In Rexdale alone there are over 60,000 people. And you never hear anybody saying anything about coming out. That’s because as soon as you do, you literally put yourself at risk for being attacked. The reporting for hate crimes is zero in that area, but I know for a fact that they’re high.”

The area has challenges in common with many poorer inner suburban neighbourhoods. There is first the physical isolation, which makes it a challenge in terms of finances and time to travel to downtown neighbourhoods where LGTBQ communities are thicker on the ground.

Rodriguez said he’s found that the very diversity that enriches Rexdale also makes it more difficult for LGBTQ young people to come out honestly, as newcomer groups often isolate themselves and hold close to old sexual and social mores.

And finally, there are simple socioeconomic factors.

“It’s a lower income neighbourhood, people are living in poverty, dealing with issues with that, and racially profiled people. You have gangs and violence – so that the queer community is completely suppressed and isolated,” he said.

Rex Pride is an effort to break through that isolation. The group meets at the Rexdale Community Health Centre at 2267 Islington Ave. in several sessions. There’s a Queer Media Arts Program on Tuesdays from 4 to 8 p.m., and training programs for those that want to mentor youth, and affect social change in the community.

It is, Rodriguez acknowledges, a big job. The group, which currently is helping 20 youth, has received a four-year Trillium Ontario grant to do outreach in the community – and so far has partnered with four area schools to help make for a safer environment for LGTBQ young people.

“It’s not a Band-Aid fix,” he said. “People say, oh do training for an hour? That’s not enough. For community work there has to be an idea of what’s going on. There’s the policies and procedures reviews (for institutions). There is the staff training, a minimum one day and has to be followed up annually.”

And for the young people Rex Pride helps?

“I have my journey, we all have our own journeys, but I can’t tell anyone what their journey is,” said Rodriguez at the podium below the Rainbow flag at City Hall. “We don’t tell people what they need to do. We just let them tell us what they need from us.”

Youth worker helps young people deal with LGBTQ issues in Rexdale

Community May 17, 2017 by David Nickle Etobicoke Guardian

Rexdale was not kind to Terrence Rodriguez.

Seventeen years ago, Rodriguez – biologically female at the time – came out to his family as a lesbian.

“I had Holy Water sprinkled on me,” recalled Rodriguez. “Half of my family disowned me.”

At 14 years old, Rodriguez left the Roman Catholic school he was attending, Monsignor Percy Johnson, and enrolled in Kipling Collegiate. When he later concluded that he needed to transition, it didn’t get any better – finding that many in the school’s large cohort of socially conservative Muslim students were just as unwelcoming as the Roman Catholic kids from Monsignor Johnson.

“I didn’t really escape it,” he said. “I was always looking over my shoulder – people were heckling me, following me home from school, writing graffiti on my locker. I think the scariest was that there was a perception by males in the community that all I had to do was have sexual relations with them and I would change my mind.”

In 2003 Rexdale under those circumstances, Rodriguez felt he had a stark choice.

“Do I stay in the closet and be safe, or do I come out and look over my shoulder? And I realized I may have to watch over my shoulder, but I would be safe because I wouldn’t have the threat of self-harm or committing suicide. That was the ultimate fear.”

Rodriguez made the comments far from Etobicoke, just after he had finished speaking at the Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) flag raising this month at Toronto City Hall, on behalf of the organization he founded in 2012, Rex Pride.

Rodriguez started the organization after having spent time as a youth worker, who because of his identity was frequently referred cases of young people struggling with their sexual and gender identities. He eventually got tired of simply referring those people to agencies in downtown Toronto, and saw a need to establish a local agency to help his young clients deal with their sexuality in the community in which they lived.

In a real sense, the organization is a response to Rodriguez’ experience: growing up queer on the edges of a city that is arguably internationally famous for its openness to LGBTQ people.

“Rexdale is definitely a different experience from that expectation,” said Rodriguez. “A lot of people forget that the GTA is not just the downtown core. In Rexdale alone there are over 60,000 people. And you never hear anybody saying anything about coming out. That’s because as soon as you do, you literally put yourself at risk for being attacked. The reporting for hate crimes is zero in that area, but I know for a fact that they’re high.”

The area has challenges in common with many poorer inner suburban neighbourhoods. There is first the physical isolation, which makes it a challenge in terms of finances and time to travel to downtown neighbourhoods where LGTBQ communities are thicker on the ground.

Rodriguez said he’s found that the very diversity that enriches Rexdale also makes it more difficult for LGBTQ young people to come out honestly, as newcomer groups often isolate themselves and hold close to old sexual and social mores.

And finally, there are simple socioeconomic factors.

“It’s a lower income neighbourhood, people are living in poverty, dealing with issues with that, and racially profiled people. You have gangs and violence – so that the queer community is completely suppressed and isolated,” he said.

Rex Pride is an effort to break through that isolation. The group meets at the Rexdale Community Health Centre at 2267 Islington Ave. in several sessions. There’s a Queer Media Arts Program on Tuesdays from 4 to 8 p.m., and training programs for those that want to mentor youth, and affect social change in the community.

It is, Rodriguez acknowledges, a big job. The group, which currently is helping 20 youth, has received a four-year Trillium Ontario grant to do outreach in the community – and so far has partnered with four area schools to help make for a safer environment for LGTBQ young people.

“It’s not a Band-Aid fix,” he said. “People say, oh do training for an hour? That’s not enough. For community work there has to be an idea of what’s going on. There’s the policies and procedures reviews (for institutions). There is the staff training, a minimum one day and has to be followed up annually.”

And for the young people Rex Pride helps?

“I have my journey, we all have our own journeys, but I can’t tell anyone what their journey is,” said Rodriguez at the podium below the Rainbow flag at City Hall. “We don’t tell people what they need to do. We just let them tell us what they need from us.”