Research, SPECTRUM News

Waterloo Region 2SLGBTQ+ WELCOME Study

Spectrum is working with health researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University, in partnership with the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo & Area (ACCKWA), on a new grant funded research project called the “Waterloo Region 2SLGBTQ+ WELCOME Study” led by Dr. Todd Coleman, Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. This project aims to assess 2SLGBTQ+ needs in Waterloo Region, given that our community has largely been ignored in the context of health research. We wish to better understand the needs as well as the health and well-being of our community and offer programming and policy solutions to improve health outcomes. 

The research will include a 40-minute survey and a qualitative interview to understand 2SLGBTQ+ experiences about community health, health status and behaviour over the life-course, healthcare and social service access, safety, and social support. It will also include consultative engagement with health system stakeholders. 

The Waterloo Region 2SLGBTQ+ WELCOME Survey is part of a multiphase grant funded project aiming to conduct a 2SLGBTQ+ needs assessment to advance the current understanding of the general health landscape of 2SLGBTQ+ identifying persons who live, work, or reside in the Waterloo region. The results of the survey will help inform the latter phases of the study and be disseminated to our constituents as part of our knowledge translation activities in different formats.  

Once the information has been collected, analyzed and distributed (e.g. at community meetings, reports, academic publications), the research team hopes to work with the community on initiatives that promote the health and well-being of 2SLGBTQ+ populations in Canada 

We are seeking participants who:

  • Identify as 2SLGBTQ+ 
  • 16+ 
  • Live, work, or reside in Waterloo Region 

If this is you and you’d like to take the survey, . Note that the password is “welcome2023”. If you have questions or would like to be considered for an interview, please connect with Robert Chin-see (he/him).

This study has been approved by the Research Ethics Board at Wilfrid Laurier University (REB# 8419) 

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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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Awareness, Research, SPECTRUM News

BIR Community Engagement Final Report

Our community engagement project with Black, Indigenous, and racialized (BIR) 2SLGBTQIA+ people has come to an end — though this work will go on.

Spectrum would like to thank the Government of Canada and WAGE for investing in 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations. We would also like to thank Janet Egan (she/her) and Kerry Gervais (she/her) who were extremely helpful as WAGE Program Officers.

Special thanks to all the organizations and community members who engaged with us during this project. We are grateful for your time and trust. Spectrum looks forward to being a more welcoming and safer space for Black, Indigenous, and racialized members of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities because of your engagement with us.

We also acknowledge those community members who were not prepared to engage with us. We understand your position and will work to become an organization that you can trust.

We recognize this project as a first step in a journey towards becoming an organization that better serves all 2SLGBTQIA+ people.

As promised, we’d like to share our final report with the community. This report summarizes what we heard during the community engagement project and includes recommendations for things that Spectrum (and potentially other organizations) can do to better serve BIR 2SLGBTQIA+ people.

We have already begun working on some of the recommendations. You have told us that you would like a BIR 2SLGBTQIA+ program that is run by paid BIR co-facilitators. Our hope is to create a space in which racialized folks can feel safe to discuss and find support regarding all aspects of their identity. We will soon be hiring two co-facilitators who will work with us to create and deliver this program. Stay tuned!

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Early in 2021, SPECTRUM surveyed our volunteers, program participants and the community at large. We heard from several people who self-identified as asexual, aromantic, bisexual, and/or pansexual that they sometimes felt “not queer enough” to attend Pride events or visit LGBTQ2+ spaces. Wanting to do a better job of understanding the needs of traditionally underserved members of LGBTQ2+ communities, SPECTRUM partnered with the Waterloo Region Rainbow Coalition (WRRC) to run three focus groups during Pride month:

• June 8, 7-8:30pm: “Not Queer Enough” (Ace/Aro)
• June 15, 7-8:30pm: “Not Queer Enough” (Bi/Pan)
• June 22, 7-8:30pm: “Not Queer Enough” (Ace/Aro and/or Bi/Pan)

We would like to thank all of those who took part in these discussions for their willingness to be open and honest about their experiences, and for providing ideas on how organizations like SPECTRUM and WRRC can work to improve queer spaces in our community for bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and aromantic people. The information we gathered will help to inform the development of future events, programs and services.


14 people participated across the three group sessions. They identified themselves as: Aromantic, Asexual x4, Bisexual x10, Transgender, Non-binary x2, Queer x5, Pansexual, Omnisexual, Demisexual, Demigirl, Other.

1. Have you ever been told that you are not “really” queer or not “queer enough” to be in a queer space because of being Ace/Aro/Bi/Pan? (Yes/No)
11 of the 14 participants answered “yes” to this question.

2. Have you ever thought about leaving or chosen not to attend a space because you did not feel welcomed/safe/included because you are Ace/Aro/Bi/Pan? (Yes/No)
11 of the 14 participants answered “yes” to this question.

3. What contributes to LGBTQ2+ spaces feeling unsafe? Unwelcoming? Exclusive?
Many of the participants shared very difficult memories about feeling unsafe or unwelcome in LGBTQ2+ spaces. Some noted that because of this history they now assume queer spaces are unsafe unless proven otherwise. Some noted that while the organization providing the space claims to be welcoming, other participants are not. Frequently, people make the assumption that everyone is interested in sexual or romantic relationships. The language they use and questions they ask exclude asexual and aromantic people. The often used Pride slogan “love is love” excludes many people.

Amatonormativity is the assumption that the traditional view of romantic relationships: a monogamous relationship where the parties are married, live together, and have children in a nuclear household, is the highest form of satisfaction one can achieve in life, and that all people strive for this type of relationship.

Some participants noted a lack of understanding of what bisexuality is. Sometimes people make the assumption that if someone is married they cannot be bisexual. Some participants who are in “straight-passing” relationships feel they cannot attend events or activities with their partners. They are assumed not to be queer couples. Participants with children noted similar assumptions — their families were seen as “not queer”. A strong theme amongst participants was a feeling that their individual identities were dismissed or doubted based on current relationship and/or family status.

4. In what types of spaces do you most commonly experience not feeling welcomed / safe / included?
Some participants noted that online queer spaces were especially unwelcoming and even hostile towards asexual, aromantic, non-binary, and trans people.

Many participants shared that sometimes a space is labelled “queer” or for “LGBTQ2+ people” but the reality of their experience in those spaces is that they are really just for gay men or lesbians. Some people use “gay” and “LGBT” interchangeably which means that bisexual and trans people will show up to an event and find themselves excluded.

5. What contributes to spaces feeling welcoming? Safe? Inclusive?
Participants noted the need for explicit signage and symbols in queer spaces that identifies them as welcoming to bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and aromantic people. This might include flags, posters, and written statements. Participants noted that these explicit symbols must be coupled with education so that people understand bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and aromantic identities and do not use language that excludes them.

6. How can community organizations better serve you and reduce barriers to inclusion?
• Participants noted the need for bisexual and pansexual groups and activities to be created and offered by organizations like SPECTRUM. Participants also noted the need for groups and activities for racialized queer people.

• Participants shared that they would love to see inclusive queer parenting groups or activities. Groups with names like “queer moms” can be unwelcoming for trans people, and they exclude non-binary parents.

• Participants noted that groups for people questioning their sexuality or gender identity could be helpful.

• Participants suggested “living library” events where attendees could ask questions of people with various identities to help with understanding. They also suggested having “ambassadors” of various identities to welcome participants to new spaces or events.

• The suggestion to provide educational events or sessions to help people understand bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and aromantic identities was made.

After one of the sessions, we received feedback that polyamorous people are another underrepresented community. For some, their polyamorous identity is inextricably linked to their queerness.

The above is just a summary of some of the key points captured in these focus groups. Before the end of each session, the participants approved notes taken during the discussion. To view the complete notes please click on each session below.

• June 8, 7-8:30pm: “Not Queer Enough” (Ace/Aro)
• June 15, 7-8:30pm: “Not Queer Enough” (Bi/Pan)
• June 22, 7-8:30pm: “Not Queer Enough” (Ace/Aro and/or Bi/Pan)

Once again, SPECTRUM and WRRC thank all those who participated in these valuable discussions. The comments and suggestions made are already being taken into consideration in discussions of programming and service offerings, and of the design of our physical spaces. We encourage other organizations to make use of the feedback generously provided by the participants of these discussions to support safer, more welcoming, and inclusive queer spaces.

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Research, Survey

Perception of LGBTQ2+ people in Waterloo Region: SPECTRUM’s survey results

Perception of LGBTQ2+ people in Waterloo Region: SPECTRUM’s survey results

One of the key accountabilities defined in Project Excelsior’s WAGE Grant funding application was to conduct community surveys both of LGBTQ2+ people and non-LGBTQ2+ people in Waterloo Region. In conducting a survey of non-LGBTQ2+ people in Waterloo Region, the goal was to better understand community perceptions of LGBTQ2+ people, knowledge gaps, and what support we can provide to non-LGBTQ2+ people looking to become better allies.

In part thanks to the assistance of community partners and stakeholders, SPECTRUM received 367 qualifying responses to our survey – which was more than double the response that we got to our Spring LGBTQ2+ Community Survey. A huge thank you to everyone who either completed the survey or helped promote it!

One of the things we heard during the survey process was that there was interest in the outcome, so now that the analysis of the results is complete SPECTRUM is making a report summarizing the survey results available.

Click here for a summary report that presents the most notable findings.

Click here for a full research summary that includes open-ended response data.

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