Essay submitted by Noreen Mian
Executive Director, Rainbow Resource Centre
I was 15 years old the first time I visited Rainbow Resource Centre. Like most 2SLGBTQ+ youth, I was confused, scared and felt alone.
I checked out books from the Centre’s library and read first-hand accounts from 2SLGBTQ+ writers. These books made me realize I was not alone and I discovered a supportive and vibrant 2SLGBTQ+ community in Winnipeg. I joined the Youth Group; an informal group of peers that met weekly. With their support and encouragement, I came out to my family and friends and never looked back. Rainbow Resource Centre was there when I needed it and I am honoured to have returned as the Executive Director.
Rainbow Resource Centre started out as Gays for Equality; a student group founded at the University of Manitoba in 1973. Since this time, it has advocated for marriage equality, educated policymakers, and supported the 2SLGBTQ+ community in Manitoba. Today, the volunteer-led Youth Group that I was a part of has grown into a core program that continues to be a safe, positive space for Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning youth. Here, youth celebrate their identities and build resilience and self-confidence. The Centre also provides free short-term counselling and a range of social support groups for children, families, and older adults. A lot has been accomplished in 50 years.
As Rainbow Resource Centre looks forward to the next 100 years, we envision a society in which diverse sexual and gender identities, orientations and expressions are included, valued, and celebrated.
We see a health care system that provides easy-to-access gender-affirming medical care for all transgender and non-binary people and long-term care facilities that are inclusive and understanding of the unique needs of aging 2SLGBTQ+ older adults. We hope all schools are safe spaces for youth that recognize and honour all identities. We hope inclusion and diversity are inherent within the culture of all workplaces and that gender-inclusive washrooms in public spaces are part of our everyday experience.
Essentially, we are shaping a world in which our services are no longer necessary.
We asked 2SLGBTQ+ youth to tell us what they hope life will be like in 100 years. They described a future where they feel safe:
“That human rights won’t be up for debate, as in, the right for us to exist won’t be politicized. We won’t be debated.”
“No more need for coming out. People just grow up as who they are and don’t need to hide.”
“No more division. Acceptance will be the norm and we’ll just be students.”
A group of older adults at the Centre reminded me they fought for inclusion, not assimilation:
“We will always need to celebrate our identity – we are not the same. We should all have the right to continue to celebrate who we are.”
Designated safe spaces for the 2SLGBTQ+ community to meet and gather are important, as is aging with pride among peers. These are the folks who fought for equality and in some cases, lost their family, friends and employment. We will continue to meet their needs and more importantly, ensure that they are not forgotten. For this reason, affordable housing for 2SLBTQ+ seniors is one of our priorities as we move forward.
The role of philanthropy in realizing our vision is essential. Philanthropy offers everyone the opportunity to participate in supporting and caring for Winnipeg. Rainbow Resource Centre was built by community and it is our responsibility to continue to care for one another—because at some point in our life, we all need support. We all need to belong.
Noreen Mian (she/her) is the Executive Director of the Rainbow Resource Centre. Noreen believes in the power of community and has worked and volunteered in the not-for-profit sector for more than 10 years. She has served as the Executive Director of Volunteer Manitoba and Chair of the Winnipeg Folk Festival. She has a talent for cutting through noise to get to the heart of any matter and champions best practices in governance and organizational development. Noreen holds a MA in cultural studies (Athabasca) and a BA in Art History (McGill) and before beginning her career, spent six months living in West Africa volunteering in community development.