Week 2 was a massive learning curve!

I have spent a lot of my time at Rainbow Health Ontario and Sherbourne Health Centre  this week. Special thanks go to Devon McFarlane  (and Gael) for organising for me to see lots of different parts of an extremely comprehensive LGBTQ health program.

Sherbourne Health Centre

On Monday I had an introductory meeting with Devon and team about the important policy, research and training work they do. Important issues raised were wide-ranging,  from mental and emotional health (including shame based trauma), positive trans health but also ensuring that every day health needs of LGBTQ+ populations are met in a culturally sensitive way.

The team talked about changing hearts and minds with the support of allies but also to back this up with evidenced based research. I’ll need to go back to the UK and ask for colleagues support to find similar research in the  UK so that we can evidence need for resources to make a change. Jordan talked about the progress made in  de-pathologising of gender identity (making trans issues less of a medical problem to be solved) and supporting primary/community care to be skilled up to work in partnership with trans people to meet their needs- this is work I’m interested in taking back to the UK and looking at what happens now in GP surgeries and with local Trans organisations supporting trans people and seeing if we can get some funding to support people to navigate the system. definitely food for thought!

I talked about Independent Advocacy and developing a strong link between  individual advocacy and policy and campaigning (systemic advocacy -advocating for changes in the system at a policy and system level rather than the individual.)

Monday evening I joined Lucy Costa at the Empowerment Council at a very lively event discussing whether people with mental health needs should be included in the Medical Assistance and Dying (MAiD) provision.Very passionate speakers and I changed my mind several times during the debate! I was persuaded in the end about  dignity in death and the impact suicide has in families and some strong testimonies from survivors, but I do think it’s a very difficult issue needing more debate and it was a great start talking with people with lived experience  at the centre and not leaving it to clinicians/politicians.  here https://mentalhealthandassisteddeath.wordpress.com/ (Great work Lucy & Chris!)


Researching for LGBTQ Health

Tuesday I was invited back to the University of Toronto Re:Searching LGBTQ Health with Lori and her colleagues discussing their progress in their researching. It was heartening to hear hoew passionate they were about their work especially after hearing at RHO thow important up to date research is in terms of effecting change. topics covered were Older People and MH, systematic literature review of bisexual mental health, psychology of sexual minority issues, post natal depression among sexual minority women, midwives attitudes to LGBTQ clients, poverty among LGBTQ people.

The rest of the week I spent back at  Sherbourne HC and Rainbow H O. I met Melanie Oda, Director, ARC & Mental Health re: implementing an organisational approach for Trans health, Acute Respite Care and Mental Health. In 2016 they opened four additional beds to support trans, non-binary or gender-diverse, with recovery from transition-related surgery for people who may not have recovery support at home in an enviroment that is LGBTQ positive and clinically competent and this seems like a very exciting development.

I listened in at the weekly mentorship call (supported by RHO) where any professional, who is working with gender-diverse clients across Ontario can connect with other clinicians with experience. The topics discussed range from specific case-based questions to more general social or ethical issues. By sharing their learning, practitioners are also creating a community of practice and establishing valuable professional networks. The call is moderated and gives early support for trans positive professionals and builds capacity to support specialty and competency for all. I really liked this model, it could definitely work well in all-sorts of environments. I know way more than I needed to re the Canadian system for surgery!20170608_090911

I’m playing catch as things have been so hectic! I also went to  the U of T pre pride Party, showing and panel of the film “Screaming Queens”, met more lovely people who took me for drinks,  was given a rainbow flowers by a stranger and so much more….


What a week!Here are some musings about what I have learnt…

So I promised you rainbows…

This is where I started from…. (apologies to any organisations that are doing good work in this field that I have missed out and please let me know about any interesting for my return)20170529_153047

These are the issues I have learnt about so far:

  • How systemic advocacy is very well developed in Toronto and Independent Advocacy, not so much. Everyone I have spoken to has been interested in the social model of having Independent Advocates to support empowerment and tackle discrimination and disadvantage at an individual level and I have reflected that in the UK we have a rich resource in terms of casework and as an Advocacy Movement we need to find a way to turn this into comprehensive Systemic Advocacy
  • I’ve learnt about Lori’s work re Post-partem Mental Health among Sexual Minority Women
  • I’ve learnt the term Racialised People – which I think is an excellent term as it takes the onus away from Black and Minority Ethnic People and places it on the system and institutions who view people in a certain way because of their race
  • I’ve learnt that there is evidence that those who identify as Bisexual experience the worst health outcomes and poverty
  • That Independent Advocacy for Trans community re access to services would be a priority (I knew this already for the UK but was surprised that it is still an issue in Toronto)
  • Similar echoes across the pond re LGBTQ access to fertility and Planned Parenthood services
  •  I want to talk to more people about Trauma Informed Care and about the dilemma of supporting those who are have experienced trauma as a result of being  a Sexual Minority without medicalising and pathologising the LGBTQ identity and experience

I’ve been to two films at the LGBTQ film festival Inside Out, ate Dim Sum with a group of Latino and Latina LGBTQ, Met a lesbian couple in their 50’s with a three year old. Met a young woman who supports an Iranian LGBTQ youth group, had my first experience of a gender neutral washroom,  been asked a lot about the Manchester and London Attacks and received a lot of support and also lots of discussions re the coming election in the UK!

now for pictures….

Four days in and I’m already enamoured with Toronto!

20170529_210224I’m not gonna lie – you are going to see a lot of Rainbows on this blog!

So just to remind you-  I am visiting Toronto on the first leg of my journey looking into LGBTQ Health  and what the Independent Advocacy sector could learn funded by the Winston Churchill Fellowship Trust.

I arrived in Toronto on Sunday, I deliberately found an Airbnb in the Gay Village as I want to immerse myself in the community and talk to people about their health care experiences, as well as meet the movers and shakers of the community (hopefully!).  I am staying with the lovely Angela and Giuliana who suggested I spent the first evening walking through the Gay Village,  I saw a LGBTQ bookshop  called Glad Day bookstore, which is always a safe bet- I had a coffee and ended up meeting a medic student who had plenty to say about LGBTQ health!

I organised my study visit during  Pride Month in Toronto because often during Pride celebrations, services are open and reflective of current challenges and the historical context of how far we have come in recent decades. Remember, it might all seem like a big party, but Pride came out of remembrance of the Stonewall Riots against abuse of the LGBTQ community in New York and is still a political act to many of us.

Monday was my first day of business and I met with Lori Ross Associate Professor at University of Toronto who leads a research program called Re:Searching LGBTQ Health, and has agreed to host me.

Tuesday, I visited Lucy Costa at the Empowerment Council in the large mental health hospital CAMH, we talked about Mad Studies, power and violence, queer identities, and institutional homophobia. What a fascinating woman and I am definitely planning to meet with her again.

On Wednesday I was back to the Gay Village and met Becky McFarlane at The 519 Community Centre,  ensuring people get access to services, advocacy and providing systemic advocacy. Becky also talked about intersectionality and providing trauma informed services, I am going to meet her team and I will definitely use some of the services that are open to all20170531_114132 The lobby of the 915 –  I do love a noticeboard full of resources! #oldskool

for those of you who like your instant info via the world wide web:

Re:searching for LGBT Health – lgbtqhealth.ca

Empowerment Council – http://www.empowermentcouncil.ca/

The 519 Community Centre – Space for Change http://www.the519.org/

And so my study visit countdown begins…


It is almost one month until I begin  the first part of my study visit which is  to Toronto, Canada!

I’ve booked my return flight Manchester/Toronto and I’ve also booked an absolutely fabulous Airbnb –  I was really pleased that WCMT were so efficient at sending expenses once i submitted my itinerary. I will be staying in the ” Gay Village” part of downtown Toronto with a lovely sounding couple. I have a whole floor to myself but also the chance to spend some time with people who actually live in the city. I’ve already exchange texts with Angela who is from South America originally and she’s promised to help me practice my Spanish whilst I’m there!

I have been in touch with all three of my organisations that I am intending to visit. I’ve already had a Skype conversation and email correspondence about what I want to get the visits, so I can make best use of the time I have available to get as much information as possible to bring back to the UK around LGBT mental health advocacy.

Now I’m starting to worry about all the practical things that I need to get sorted before I feel able to call my trip stress free. Senior workers within my organisation have agreed to act up in my absence, I will be away for five weeks in total including the holiday and so it feels like a huge task to give all information to the team so that they can manage the organisation in my most of which  I seem to have in my head!

I also have all sorts of organising to do in my home life, not least of which is supporting my two children to get all this stuff packed return from the first year university whilst I’m away! I’ve been recommended called wonder list which is helping be organised – so I’m sure that will solve everything then…

I’m also a little anxious about travelling on my own, I am not a someone who has travelled extensively and whilst this this award has given me an opportunity I wouldn’t have ordinarily had I’m  still going to need to be brave!





Churchill Travelling Fellowship- it’s finally sinking in that I have been awarded fellowship to go to Canada and Australia to look into LGBTQ Advocacy!

So I have agreed to write a blog to talk about my experience of travelling to learn about LGBTQ Avocacy, as part of the Churchill Fellowship. This will be an immense challenge for me, because I am much more of a verbal person and am slightly apprehensive of the ‘tablets of stone’ that a blog can be, but in the spirit of new chapter, new challenges – I am going to make a go of it!

So how come I even applied for the Winston Churchill Fellowship anyway?

It was a number of things that came together  – culminating in the right time and the right energy.  My children have both gone off to university, leaving me with a big space to fill, so  I decided to take this as a positive opportunity to think about what I was doing in the next phase in my life. My work had paid for me to have some coaching  sessions which was very helpful in opening my mind up to differing possibilities. But it was a chance discussion with a colleague and friend who is a Churchill Fellow that gave me the push I needed. She asked me if there was anything in my work field that I felt I could explore further. I talked about the fact that I felt that the issues re LGBT advocacy had not been discussed and developed in the Advocacy world and I felt that as a Lesbian, I would like to look  at this further.

The  application ..

So off I went and spent a massive amount of time in the early hours on my IPad researching my topic to see if I could find any services out there that I could learn from. I did find some but as I had thought  they were not in the UK and my proposal started to take shape. I got the application in relatively easy as I really felt I had a positive plan and I was excited and nervous when I received word I had an interview down in London.

The interview…

It was one of those feels like -5 Days in Westminster so I didn’t do any sightseeing but I really felt that I had done my homework as a I sat with a cup of coffee in a community cafe opposite , having arrived early (so unlike me!). The interview went by in a blur of smiling and nodding faces and  I realised that I was struggling to keep my excitement under control , I really wanted this and was struggling to keep myself grounded in case I wasn’t accepted, I knew the completion was steep. Anyway as I made my way back from the interview, I felt that I had given a good account of myself either way!


The waiting was a nightmare and  when I saw on twitter that I would hear on 17th February by post, I groaned – how was I going to manage to get through the day. I ended up leaving work early and was so please to see a large envelope on my door mat! A congratulations letter and a welcome to being a Churchill Fellow pack!

After the excitement of telling people, today the reality has kicked in! I am going to be travelling to Canada hopefully in June and then Australia in January or February and it isn’t that long away to plan a big trip! I need to get everything in place not only the practicalities of flights and accommodation but all the contacts to make it a really valuable experience. I am really looking forward to it though (even if I might have to have hypnotherapy before I go for my fear of spiders!)

Next steps are making further contact with the organisations I propose to visit, cooking up an itinery and going down to London for a New Fellows Event.

Thanks to Bev my coach, Alice my friend and my family for being supportive!

Well that is my first post done, it’s only four days since my letter arrived so I feel I’m ahead of the game already!