Hamilton

Councillor says Hamilton needs community centre focused on LGBTQ and racialized residents

Hamilton city councillors will debate tomorrow whether to look at a new community hub devoted to queer, trans and racialized communities, similar to Toronto's 519 community centre.

Make hubs in neighbourhoods, where people can take transit, and they'll show up, Nrinder Nann says

Coun. Nrinder Nann wants the city to look into establishing a neighbourhood hub for diverse and marginalized communities, similar to the Rexdale community hub and the 519 Church Street Community Centre in Toronto. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

Hamilton needs a space for queer, trans and racialized communities, even if it costs money, says one city councillor. And tomorrow, she hopes to other councillors will agree.

Nrinder Nann, Ward 3 (central lower city) councillor, says the city needs a space similar to Toronto's Rexdale community hub, or the Church Street 519 community centre. This "multi-purpose" hub for "historically marginalized communities" could be used for offices, programs and socializing.

Nann said particularly with headlines this year around violence at this year's Pride festival, and Hamilton having Canada's highest hate-crime stats, people need space to call their own. The Toronto model, she said, shows that when there's neighbourhood space accessible by transit, people will use it.

"People feel isolated," said Nann, Toronto's former manager of community development. "People are feeling left out. People are feeling like there isn't a place to land."

Hamilton, Ontario, has the most hate crime per capita in the country. Along with that, it has ongoing weekly protests at city hall by members of the yellow vest movement and far-right groups. CBC News reporter Samantha Craggs has been covering this story in Hamilton, as part of an ongoing series called “Exposing Hate”. Today on Front Burner, she explains why Hamilton has become a flashpoint for hate in Canada. 24:03

"I know some councillors are nervous about what this means in terms of financial commitment, and the difficulty of balancing a project like this in a fiscal environment." But "we still have an obligation and a need to respond to the things we haven't had historically."

So far, 13 people have registered to speak, including Jyssika Russell of Speqtrum Hamilton.

The LGBTQ community hasn't had its own space for years, Russell said. The closest is the annual Pride festival, and for two years, religious protesters have crashed it. This year, that resulted in violence, flaring tensions between the city, police and queer and trans Hamiltonians.

"The one time we do have space and we connect," Russell said, "we are faced with people protesting our basic humanity."

Nrinder Nann is a Hamilton Ward 3 (central lower city) councillor. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Rahim Uddin Chowdhury said the headlines this year have inspired him to speak in favour of the concept too. "There are a lot of hate crimes and discrimination," he said.

A June report from McMaster University, Mapping the Void, shows LGBTQ people would welcome the idea. Queer and trans people lack dedicated social groups, it says, as well as bars and clubs, and even a safe place to get a hair cut. 

Will Rowe is trying to fill the gap. In May, he co-founded of Kyle's Place, named after the late Kyle Scanlon, a researcher and educator at the 519.

The rate of hate crimes in Hamilton is three times the national average, giving the city a reputation for hate 9:05

Kyle's Place hosts socials for trans and non-binary people over 40, the Brody Brown Name Change Fund and TransParent Hamilton-Niagara, among other services. But space, Rowe said, is always a problem.

He doesn't know the details of Nann's proposal, but so far, he supports it.

"For many of the grassroots agencies, it's difficult to find a place in the city because of gentrification issues and the cost of having separate office space," he said.

"Having everyone together could make for nice one-stop shop, like the 519."

City council's general issues committee starts at 9:30 a.m.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca