LGBTQ community offered self-defence classes after raising safety concerns

The LGBTQ-plus Friendly Self-Defence Program runs in partnership between Larose Karate in Waterloo and the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area (ACCKWA).

Martial arts program will return in fall and cater to LGBTQ+ youth

Joël Larose, left, is the owner of the karate school. He is joined by his partner, Anthony, on the right. (Submitted by Joël Larose )

Some members of the Waterloo region's LGBTQ+ community are turning to martial arts after an "overwhelming" number of people who identify as gay or transgender reported feeling "unsafe and ostracized."

The LGBTQ-plus Friendly Self-Defence Program is run in partnership between Larose Karate in Waterloo and the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area (ACCKWA).

"What we found was that an overwhelming majority [of people] found that they don't necessarily feel safe accessing services and supports in the region or even going out and about," said Ben Warren, the gay men's sexual health co-ordinator at ACCKWA.

The program included three weekly classes that ran out of the Kitchener-based organization, where about half a dozen adults attended this month. The last class ran Monday.

Warren said it was developed after concerns mounted in the last few years, compounded by the results of a needs assessment in the community.

The OutLook Study, surveyed more than 500 people in the LGBTQ community about two years ago. About 40 per cent of transgender respondents said they felt safe in public — 60 per cent of cisgender LGBTQ community members echoed that.

"It's heartbreaking," Warren said. "It goes to show while we certainly have come far in many areas, the overwhelming feeling of unsafe and feeling ostracized in a variety of different ways … is still quite prevalent within the community."

The karate school offers other services to the public. This photo was captured during one of the general classes. (Submitted by Joël Larose )

How to avoid dangerous situations

The program isn't any different than other self defence classes provided, but it allows members of the LGBTQ community to gather in a safe space.

Facilitator Joël Larose said he also hopes to breakdown any stereotypes related to the martial arts. As a gay man himself, he said he's noticed people turning away from martial arts due to the "machismo" that comes with it.

"[Some people are] kind of turned off by the machismo that exists in a lot of martial arts schools … it's promoted in the media that there's a lot of violence or rough attitude in martial arts schools … Like ultra-masculine or that you have to be a female victim," he said.

"I want to bridge that gap," he added.

Larose, who's also the owner and head instructor at the karate school, said he teaches the fundamental principles of self-defence including how to avoid dangerous situations that include punch throwing or knife attacks.

He said he plans to fight away the name calling and other discrimination targeted toward members of his community.

The program is set to return in the fall, when it will cater to LGBTQ youth.