A report from the Rainbow Forum

Celebrating the diversity of 2SLGBTQ+ identities has become synonymous with summer pride events across the country. And while the colourful costumes and rainbow flags evoke inclusivity and embrace individuality, the fact remains that 2SLGBTQ+ communities continue to report feeling marginalized – especially in the context of health care settings.

In response, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) partnered with Wisdom2Action (W2A) – a group that specializes in improving the mental health of vulnerable children and youth through knowledge sharing – to better understand the needs, wants and experiences of these young people.

The newly released Rainbow Youth Health Forum Report boasts valuable nuggets for health care providers wishing to better understand the needs of 2SLGBTQ+ emerging adults – but it is also a veritable master class in hosting events that aim to be welcoming and inclusive to all.

“Because of the very nature of our work, the MHCC has a responsibility to show leadership – not just in the kind of work we chose to do, but also in the way we carry out that work,” explains Ed Mantler, vice-president of programs and priorities at the MHCC.  “Often, that means seeking out a partner and learning from their experience, and that is precisely why we turned to Wisdom2Action.”

The Rainbow Forum was conceived to be inclusive from the word go. From a participant recruitment process that sought the widest possible representation, to a carefully orchestrated two-day event in Ottawa led by youth hosts, the express goal was to set an agenda that made everyone feel welcome, listened to and, above all, safe.

“To get a true picture of the kinds of barriers 2SLGBTQ+ people are facing in the health sector, we need to hear their experiences. But to listen effectively, we must be mindful that too often they have been stigmatized, dismissed, overlooked or harmed by a system that doesn’t fully accept the truth of their identities and experiences,” notes Mantler, who is equally proud of the video series produced to accompany the report.  

The report itself – which details the principles that guided the event, explains the engaging presentation format, details the world café conversations, and features the illustrated posters that depicted participant responses – can serve as a reference guide for anyone wishing to conduct a similar forum. The videos, meanwhile, are powerful first-hand testimonials of the 2SLGBTQ+ experience.

Topics of discussion during the forum ranged from the gap in anti-oppressive and trauma-informed training for providers, to the need for patient-provider collaboration, ensuing young people feel heard and can meaningfully contribute to their own care experience. Economic insecurity – cleverly coined “poverty and its comrades” – was another topic approached with innate sensitivity given that many of the participants expressed unemployment as one of their biggest barriers to fully participating in community life.

The group called on greater education for health care providers, and a system of care that is responsive to individuals’ intersecting needs – with a focus on early intervention.

“We aren’t going to change the world overnight,” concedes Mantler. “But in partnership with Wisdom2Action, we’ve offered a platform to amplify underrepresented voices and modeled a format for engaging groups who may have felt marginalized by mainstream organizations.”