Autres nouvelles Why LGBTQ indigenous communities struggle with healthcare for the homeless

When asked about his lifestyle at a medical appointment last year, Chris Pike disclosed the following: alcohol isn’t traditional to indigenous culture, so he doesn’t drink, or do drugs or smoke commercial tobacco.  But when he told his two doctors of his participation in sweat lodges, they referred to this ceremonial participation as an “odd and secret ceremony.” 

That doctors at a major downtown hospital would say this in 2015 is “quite disturbing,” he says. Pike, a clinician and therapist, is a proponent of culturally safe healthcare, a major focus of his employer Anishnawbe Health Toronto. The approach requires understanding of the myriad ways individuals experience their identities, how that relates to culture, and respecting how those facets have been affected by legacies of colonization and residential schools. 

“Homophobia, transphobia and two-spirited phobia are not traditional,” says Pike. While no two Indigenous communities are the same, many have undergone drastic adaptations in the way they interpret, react to and welcome gender diversity. These variations have had lasting and intergenerational effects on how Indigenous youth’s identity and health will fare.

Two-spirit, third and fourth gender are just some of the gender identities given names by Indigenous communities, with countless more being represented in their languages. Two-spirit, a term founded in 1990 at the third annual intertribal Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference in Winnipeg, is a derivation of the Ojibwe and Anishnabe term niizh manidoowag, or “two spirits.” It has different meanings to different peoples, but the phrase, designed to help recover pre-colonial ways of being, often signifies a person’s dual embodiment of masculine and feminine spirits. Traditionally, two-spirited and gender nonconforming people were revered in their communities, given high ceremonial roles and access to male and female duties.

While the legacies of colonialism and residential schools have had far-reaching intergenerational impacts on Indigenous communities across Canada, two-spirited people have experienced distinct setbacks. Once revered, Christianization and the inflection of patriarchal and heteronormative standards stigmatized two-spirited people for the first time.

This stigma has material consequences in health. Both Indigenous and queer youth are disproportionately represented in local and national populations experiencing homelessness, at risk to attempt suicide or to experience violence.  

Last year, Toronto opened its first LGBTQ shelter, YMCA’s Sprott House. Street Needs Assessment data reflect the disproportionate rates of queer youth homelessness, and mental and sexual health outcomes. But in a city with a large and growing Indigenous population, not as much is known about Indigenous health outcomes for two-spirited youth.