Research, SPECTRUM News

Assessing the Need for Trans-Autistic Support in Waterloo Region

In Spring 2023, Waterloo Region Family Network (WRFN) and Spectrum Waterloo Region’s Rainbow Community Place (Spectrum) came together to assess the need for supports for the trans-autistic community. Trans and autistic communities face their own unique challenges navigating society. Trans individuals might experience transphobia, barriers to accessing public spaces, and threats of violence while autistic individuals can experience ableism, lack of accessibility and/or accommodations, and other forms of systemic discrimination. When someone is both trans and autistic, the discrimination they face is compounded – meaning any support given to this community is incomplete if it does not consider the intersections of their identity.

Interviews and surveys were conducted to gather insights from the community to help inform the establishment of potential programming for the trans-autistic community. We were so fortunate to work with Cayden Genik on this project. Cayden played an instrumental role in conducting interviews, research and report writing. Cayden’s full report, Establishing Effective Trans-Autistic Support, can be found here.

Our Objective

This collaborative project sought to acknowledge the increasingly visible intersection between autism and gender divergence, elevate the voices of autistic and/or trans community members, assess the need for programming, and establish next steps to implement potential programming.

Our Method

We connected with the trans-autistic community through three group interviews (one in-person and two virtual) and an online survey. All information collected was anonymous. We had a total of sixteen participants, some of whom were members of the trans-autistic community (either with formal diagnosis or without) while others were parents of individuals in this community. While we valued all insights, emphasis was given to voices of those within the trans-autistic community themselves.

Common Challenges for Trans-Autistic Individuals

When speaking with those belonging to the community, many common themes began to emerge:

  • Lack of overall support at the intersection of autism and gender divergence.
  • Uncertainty of where to access informed resources.
  • Difficulty finding others within the trans-autistic community.
  • Lack of racial diversity in community programming.
  • Lack of safe, social spaces for the trans-autistic community.
  • Preference to engage in programming carried out by individuals with lived experience.
  • Preference for reliable, in-person, drop-in programming that requires little commitment.

When speaking to the parents of those belonging to the trans-autistic community, the following themes were identified:

  • Virtual programming made it difficult for their children to connect and engage.
  • A lack of access to resources and information.
  • Need for a safe, social space where their trans-autistic children feel represented.

When asked about the challenges they have encountered, those identifying as autistic and/or trans shared the following:

  • Society has a limited understanding of what autism is, thus contributing to the incorrect belief that all those with autism have reduced mental capacity.
  • Transness is often invalidated in the presence of autism.
  • Systemic discrimination, microaggressions, and stigma.
  • Navigating as non-binary in a binary world.
  • Fear of taking up space (i.e., not being trans or autistic enough to fit in with each individual community).
  • Lack of moderated gatherings and safe spaces to meet other individuals belonging to the community.
  • Lack of support in communication and accessibility needs.
  • Lack of racial and neurodiversity in community programming.

Need for Inclusive and Flexible Programming

Out of all autistic and/or trans participants, only five had experience with existing programming. Those that commented on their experiences with programming shared that they valued having the ability to learn about themselves and connect with peers in a safe space where they did not feel the need to justify their existence. In addition, these individuals shared the following critiques of their experiences with programming:

  • Cisgender folks have made formal attempts against programming in an attempt to have it disbanded.
  • Organizations often assume what the community needs without getting them involved in the conversation.
  • Difficulty in meeting criteria for in-person programming (e.g., formal diagnoses, non-binary exclusions).

Next Steps

Through our collaboration, interviews, surveys, and research gathered by Cayden, it is clear there is a need in our community for a specialized program for the trans-autistic community. WRFN and Spectrum will continue to work together to build a program to address the unique needs expressed by our local trans-autistic community.

As Cayden highlights, effectively supporting this diverse community involves constantly revising current practices and seeking ways in which they can be improved. With the guidance provided in Cayden’s report, we aim to create programming that is led and informed by those with lived experience where others can feel understood and have access to reliable resources. 

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Transgender Peer Support Group Updates

UPDATE! The Trans Peer Support Groups will return to the second and fourth Mondays of the month starting October 9th!

We’ve had some questions about recent changes to our transgender peer support group schedule and wanted to provide an update.

Our general trans peer support group is currently meeting on the first and third Thursdays of the month. We don’t currently have enough volunteer co-facilitators to run the meetings that we used to have on the second and fourth Mondays of the month, but we hope to bring them back in the near future.

Our Beyond the Binary group meets once per month on the fourth Tuesday of the month.

Our transmasc group is currently on hold as we look for volunteer co-facilitators. Ideally, we would also like to have a transfemme group, but again we’d need the volunteers to make it happen.

Our Cambridge transgender peer support group continues to meet bi-weekly on Thursdays.

For transparency’s sake, we schedule two volunteer co-facilitators to run every group. Our volunteers are required to take training in accessibility, health and safety, racism, and our own Rainbow Diversity Training. They’re also required to have a police check for the vulnerable sector, be familiar with our policies and procedures, and participate in additional training as we identify other important opportunities. Not everyone who applies to be a volunteer is well-suited to facilitation of a peer support group. We interview people and check references to make sure that our volunteers will be able to commit to running the groups at specific times and have strong facilitation skills.

We currently have four volunteers on our trans peer support team, and three of them are relatively new. Special thanks to our volunteers for making these groups possible! If you are interested in volunteering with us you can complete the application here.

We will provide more updates as the program evolves. We know how important these groups are to participants and we will provide as many of them as we safely can within our resources.

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Awareness, Statements

“We’re here! We’re Queer! Get used to it!”

Spectrum strongly opposes the 1 Million March for Children who spread anti-2SLGBTQIA+ hate under the guise of protecting parental rights.

Parental rights are not under attack. Religious freedoms are not under attack. Queer and trans youth are under attack.

2SLGBTQIA+ children and youth have the right to express their gender identity to whomever they feel safe doing so with. No one has the right to out a 2SLGBTQIA+ person to anyone else without consent.

Queer and trans people have always been here and will always be here. Queer Nation’s 1990 slogan “We’re here! We’re Queer! Get used to it!” was well chosen. 2SLGBTQIA+ people will not be erased or made invisible.

To the 2SLGBTQIA+ people – especially youth – who may feel hurt, or scared because of this coordinated hate movement please know that you are seen and loved. You are not alone.

Spectrum will participate in the Queer Youth Defence rally on September 20th at 9am. There is #NoSpaceForHate in Waterloo Region. We are grateful to GroundUpWR and the University of Waterloo Solidarity Network for their work in organizing this event.

Find GroundUpWR’s Queer Youth Defence Safety Guide here. If you plan to attend the rally, please be careful and protect yourself.

Allies – this is your time. If you want to be an ally to 2SLGBTQIA+ people in your community then it involves more than putting up a rainbow sticker during Pride month. Amplify queer voices, and speak out against hate.

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Events, SPECTRUM News

Notice: Annual and Special General Meeting 2023

TAKE NOTICE that the Annual and a Special General Meeting of the Members of SPECTRUM Waterloo Region’s Rainbow Community Space (“SPECTRUM”) will be held on October 10, 2023 at 7pm virtually on Zoom for the following purposes:

1.         Receiving and approving the Minutes of the 2022 Annual Meeting

2.         Receiving the 2022 Annual Statement and Auditors Report

3.         Considering and if thought fit, confirming By-law 1 – 2023 passed by the Board of Directors on March 19, 2023 which By-law replaces By-law 2021 as the general by-law relating to the business and affairs of the Corporation.

A complete copy of By-law 1 – 2023 is appended to this Notice.

4.         To authorize the Board to file Articles of Amendment to provide that the Corporation may have a minimum and maximum number of directors and to authorize the President to sign the Articles of Amendment.

5.         To pass a special resolution of the members to set the number of directors at 10 until otherwise changed.

6.         Electing Directors

7.         To approve the waiving of the appointment of an auditor by way of extraordinary resolution in accordance with the Act.

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