People in Oxford County 'perceived to be unsupportive of LGBTQ,' report says

A new report released by Oxford County Public Health says that most LGBT people feel unsupported by the people in their community.

Members of the LGBTQ community call the report "sad" but said progress being made

Report from Oxford County Rainbow Coalition shows LGBT community feels support from friends and family, but not by broader community. (Canadian Press)

A new report released by Oxford County Public Health says that most LGBT people feel unsupported by the people in their community. 

The report is the first comprehensive look at what life is like in Oxford County for members of the LGBT community and what health services are available to them. 

Local history was made in St. Thomas today... At 10:00 this morning, the town of nearly 40 thousand people... kicked off its first ever Pride Week. 8:20

It showed that "the broader community of Oxford County was perceived to be unsupportive (i.e., not accepting) of LGBTQ people," according to an Oxford County Rainbow Coalition Survey.

"It's sad and happy at the same time for me," said David Knezevic. "We have a lot of work to do, but I'm also proud of the progress that we've made."

David Knezevic said he's proud of the progress Oxford County has made by supporting groups like the Oxford County Rainbow Coalition. (Submitted by David Knezevic)

"I've been out in Woodstock just over 15 years myself," said Knezevic, who came out partly through high-school and remembers his friend being told they couldn't bring their same-sex partner to prom.

Knezevic said he wasn't surprised by the report, which said "only one quarter of participants felt a sense of belonging to the community."

"One of the things that bothers me is that while there's growth there I'm still sort of saddened by the fact that we're still sort of having this conversation."

Transgender experience

Transgender people said they had to "educate health care professionals about their specific needs as a trans person," according to the report. 

One third of transgender respondents had "a primary health care provider tell them that they did not know enough about trans-related care to provide it."

"For me, that was a significant finding," said Gayle Milne, Chair of the Oxford County Rainbow Coalition and Oxford County public health nurse.

"We need to be recognizing the needs of our trans community and as healthcare providers educating ourselves as to what they might need in their healthcare."

Milne said the results line up with what she suspected after hearing stories of transgender people trying to use the healthcare system. 

She said the coalition will use the report to "prioritize our work and make sure that the work that we do has meaning for LGBTQ people in Oxford County."

Reports Origins

Jaysen Richards was working in the health care field in Oxford County when the study was first proposed. 

"I was happy to see that it wasn't as bad as it had been from when I was working," said Richards, who no longer lives in Oxford County but continues to work and volunteer in the area.

"It's a small town, right? So it takes time for things to develop and for people to come into the 21st century."

Jaysen Richards said that the report on LGBTQ experiences in Oxford County is unfortunate but could lead to change. (Submitted by Jaysen Richards)

"Since we've started the survey things have been getting better. There's been a lot of community motivation and some program implementation that's worked and it's kind of nice to see that there's starting to be a shift."

Richards calls some of the findings "unfortunate" but said it's good to have a baseline.

"I think that's what the survey has given us," said Richards. "It's given us a tool to make Oxford County better and it also shows that there's people in Oxford County that want to make it better."

Shift in attitudes

All three said that while the report does highlight areas for improvement there are already a number of major steps being taken by the community. 

"There are businesses that are recognizing some of the needs of the community," said Milne. "There's a support group that's meeting once a month, there's businesses that have taken on having gender neutral bathrooms for clients."

"Slowly we're seeing more change," said Milne. "We're getting requests for education which when we first started in 2011 we did not have those requests."

Milne said a Pride committee is running events for Pride month, including a Family Day at Southside Park on Saturday. 

"We're definitely seeing some change in our community and it's very exciting to be a part of it."

She said one of the key moments for her as an ally was watching the Pride flag raised at Museum Square in Woodstock for the first time last year.