Across Canada, the YMCA provides a variety of different services and programs to benefit and empower all Canadians. Learn more at ymca.ca.
The YMCA is one of Canada’s longest-standing and largest charities, with a presence in Canada since 1851. Now serving more than 2.25 million people annually across 1,700 program locations, the YMCA today, provides vital community services that are having a positive impact on some of Canada’s most pressing social issues — from chronic disease to unemployment, social isolation, poverty, inequality, and more.
Inclusiveness is one of the core values of the YMCA, and we work hard to build a place and space where belonging can be fostered by all. Inclusion is a journey, and organizations can always learn and grow to better meet the needs of their communities. As part of our learning, YMCA Member Associations are often leading the way in innovating to improve our programs and services.
When it comes to 2SLGBTQ+ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) inclusion, some of the best examples of innovating to meet community needs are the YMCA of Greater Toronto’s YMCA Sprott House, and the YMCA of Greater Vancouver and YMCAs of Québec’s commitment to accessibility in their camps.
One of the first 2SLGBTQ+ transitional housing programs for youth in Canada
YMCA Sprott House first opened its doors in Toronto in September 2007, and in 2013 began focusing on filling a much-needed gap by offering transitional housing programs targeted at 2SLGBTQ+ youth.
Almost 15 years later, YMCA Sprott House continues to provide one year of supported residential living for up to 25 young people between the ages of 16 and 24.
2SLGBTQ+ youth face many barriers — they experience transphobia and homophobia within housing programs and are vulnerable to higher rates of homelessness and subsequent mental health challenges than other youth. YMCA Sprott House provides youth with much more than a roof over their heads. The program includes resources and services for youth to reach their full potential by supporting them as they make a significant transition in their lives. The programming offered encourages individual goals while maintaining a strong sense of community amongst residents with activities such as Sunday dinners, house meetings, and workshops.
“There are good incidents and then there are magical ones. Sprott gave me the chance to live and grow as my authentic self, and I’m not the only one feeling like this at Sprott,” says a current participant.
The stability that YMCA Sprott House offers youth at this important stage in their lives allows them to create connections, explore their own identities, and set goals for themselves. As YMCA Sprott House evolves and grows, the program continues to create positive change for 2SLGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness in Toronto.
Camp should be fun and inclusive for everyone
For many youth in Canada, camping is a formative experience. Inclusion at camp means providing spaces where all feel welcome and safe, and where continuous effort is made to provide accessible programming and services to all members of our local communities.
“In short, creating inclusive camping environments is lifesaving,” says Davin Allan (he/him/his), Supervisor, Healthy Child Development for the YMCA of Greater Vancouver, who also co-founded the Pride Camping Association, a registered non-profit that helps camps better support 2SLGBTQ+ campers and staff.
2SLGTBQ+ children and youth are at higher risk of developing depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns than their non-2SLGTBQ+ peers. Research, like that reported in the Canadian Trans and Non-Binary Youth Health Survey, indicates that when 2SLGTBQ+ youth feel supported and included by adults in their families and communities, they have mental health outcomes on par with their cis (cis or cisgender is used to explain the phenomena where a person’s gender identity is in line with or “matches” the sex they were assigned at birth) and straight peers.
According to Allan, “many 2SLGTBQ+ young people don’t feel supported in their homes. Camps have the opportunity to provide the safety and security that these campers may lack outside of the camp program.”
Inclusion is also one of the YMCAs of Québec’s core values, and it is strongly reflected in their Y camp programming. YMCA Day Camps in Québec are inclusive for all families and children. Camp leaders strive to take a needs, strength, and interest-based approach in order to support the wellness of their campers and provide them with an experience that includes the dignity of risk, an opportunity to grow, and a place to feel belonging. Y Day Camps are founded in an inclusive approach, an environment that values representation and diversity, and a camp experience free of barriers.
What does inclusion look like at YMCA Camps?
“There’s no one-size-fits-all way to be inclusive. Inclusion really begins with the intention to do better. A good starting point is reviewing your forms, websites, policies, and culture for barriers that may exist to full 2SLGTBQ+ inclusion and doing what you can do to remove those barriers,” says Allan. “It’s thinking about how camp groups can be made, while being inclusive to transgender and non-binary campers.”
Some of the key ways YMCAs of Québec camps accomplish this is by intentionally working to hire diverse role models for their campers and using gender-neutral language in communications and when addressing groups. When possible, additional support or tools are provided to campers who are having trouble with a situation or behaviour.
“If you don’t know where to start, ask members of the 2SLGTBQ+ community how their needs could be better met and go from there,” says Allan. As a federation, the YMCA shares knowledge and best practices among local YMCA Associations to continue learning and growing, as we take steps to be truly inclusive organizations.