At KW Counselling Services, our vision is of a community where no one is left behind. One of the ways we work towards that vision is with our OK2BME program for LGBTQ2+ youth and their families.
Currently only available to those living in Waterloo Region, ON, OK2BME was founded in 2005 and the program has a unique, holistic approach that works to fight homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in our community. We provide no-cost counselling to LGBTQ2+ youth and their families living in Waterloo Region. Counselling is available on an ongoing basis, either in person or virtually. Single sessions are also available at our weekly Walk In Counselling Clinic.
Building resilient and supportive communities
To help build resiliency, we provide weekly social and leadership youth groups for LGBTQ2+ teens. We also provide public education and consultations on LGBTQ2+ issues, including supports to our local schools. One of the ways in which we support students and schools is hosting an annual GSA Conference. Each year, this is attended by as many as 300 students and educators who are involved in their school’s GSA clubs (Gay-Straight Alliances). The days are filled with workshops and activities designed to help LGBTQ2+ youth learn and gain a sense of belonging.
We are also involved with advocacy, both locally and nationally. We helped the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo install rainbow crosswalks, we support the raising of Pride flags at local schools and businesses, and we share our learnings. For example, in 2019 we testified to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for their LGBTQ2+ Health in Canada project.
We recently concluded a three-year program evaluation with Wilfrid Laurier University. The researchers found that:
- The OK2BME program is effective in reducing social isolation and increasing sense of belonging and well-being for LGBTQ2+ people in Waterloo Region.
- That OK2BME’s public education programming makes a difference in changing attitudes toward LGBTQ2+ people.
- That service users from across all service areas indicate they have overwhelmingly positive experiences with OK2BME.
Resources for everyone
OK2BME also has resources for youth, and for parents, and educators. These include a list of relevant books and movies that is sortable by age-appropriateness and topic, links to dozens of resources for educators, and tips and information on topics like coming out, and LGBTQ2+ people and religion.
OK2BME is partially funded by the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services. The rest of our funding comes from donations and time-limited grants from partners like the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the RBC Foundation, KW Community Foundation, and Cambridge & North Dumfries Community Foundation. In 2019, we were able to provide counselling service to 524 OK2BME clients, 3,919 clients benefited from public education and consultations, and 114 youth participated in our OK2BME youth groups.
Though the landscape has changed for LGBTQ2+ people since 2005 when OK2BME began, there’s still much work to do to fight homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia and to ensure that the rights of LGBTQ2+ people are being respected and safeguarded.
Scott Williams is Communications & Development Coordinator at KW Counselling Services.