London resourceful for gays
By Brendan Howe
Through a vast tunnel of darkness has come a bright light of hope in recent years for the gay, lesbian and bisexual community. This can be seen by simply looking at the services offered around London for the homosexual community.
One of the most important organizations in London to homosexuals and bisexuals is the Homophile Association of London, Ontario. The association maintains a community centre for the gay, lesbian and bisexual community which serves as a focal point for many meetings, support services, entertainment, counseling and political action as well as serving the community in a number of other different capacities.
HALO operates largely in a referral capacity when it comes to support services and counselling programs but it does provide other means of meeting the needs of the homophile community. The community centre is available to anyone wishing to rent it and also has a fully-licensed bar open during the evenings.
"I think our role is very important in the community, we've been here for 25 years," Mary Brown, manager of the HALO centre, says.
There are meetings held in the centre every night and it is extremely important because it houses many of the homosexual community's essential services, she explains. This includes Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, the All Lesbian Mothers Association, the Gay Line, Gay Fathers and services for youth. Located at 649 Colbourne St., the HALO information centre offers support services individuals can call and are pointed in the appropriate direction.
Courtesy of the Student Development Centre at Western, there are services available for the gay, lesbian and bisexual community on campus. Members of the community can participate in a gay, lesbian or bisexual peer support program. Students also looking for support can call and set up an appointment to speak with someone of their sexual orientation about issues arising in their life. This program is entirely confidential.
Kathryn Dance, a psychologist at SDC who is in charge of overseeing the program, says it is not considered counselling but is very similar to it. She adds if students have bigger issues they are referred to actual counsellors.
Another service provided by the centre is a homophobia workshop aimed at the heterosexual community to help raise awareness about homophobia and how it can be prevented. Dance said the SDC has a group of 10-12 facilitators who are trained to provide these workshops which are based around discussion.
"I think [the services] are a pretty valuable part of what creates an environment that welcomes gay, lesbian and bisexual students," Dance says. These students have some concerns that don't relate to other students, she adds.
SDC also offers a relatively small collection of material relating to gay, lesbian and bisexual issues. Dance said the collection is currently only composed of 40-50 books but is gradually growing.
An area of concern for some members of the homosexual community is religion which led to the creation of a support group named 'As We Are' (AWARE). This group deals with problems arising when someone is of the Christian faith but is also gay, lesbian or bisexual. Its members are largely composed of people from the Christian Reform church, a relatively conservative church which does not condone anything other than heterosexuality.
Sid, an organizer of AWARE, says the group is made up of people who have been shunned from their church and family because of their sexuality. "We encourage people to be true to themselves," he says. The group plays an important spiritual role in the community, Sid adds.
The All Lesbian Mothers' Association is another London support group catering to the gay, lesbian and bisexual community. It explores the issues surrounding being a lesbian parent but also provides an opportunity for lesbian mothers to go somewhere as a family.
"This association bridges the gap to other parenting classes," Chris Williams, the founder of the association, says. "There are not any places in London where lesbians can go as a family so we provide that."
The group is a social outlet for parents and kids with events taking place such as the upcoming Hallowe'en hay ride and haunted house adventure, Williams says.
Another area of service available in London is for educators. The Teacher's Association of London Lesbians is a social group which meets three times a year.
"It's important because it's an outlet to discuss lesbian issues," Kathleen Holland, organizer of TALL, says. The members, however, now comprise not just teachers but other lesbian women working in various educational positions.
London educators also have a chance to be involved in the Heterosexism and Homophobia in Education Work Group. "We meet once a month with interested members of the community and school boards to draw up strategies to improve the quality of life for gay lesbian and bisexual students," Holland explains.
Kathleen Holland says there are social alternatives for women such as Adventurous Women of London a group for all London women who want to meet other women in social setting. AWOL's bi-weekly activities include pot-luck dinners, canoeing and camping trips. Ninety per cent of the members are lesbian women, says Holland. What's important about the group, she adds, is that it's an avenue for women who are new to the city or recently out of a relationship, to join a social setting and make new friends.
It would appear that everywhere you turn, the homosexual community of London is reaching out and looking after each other.