The founders of a new Shuswap organization wish to connect with the LGBTIQ2+ community in the region, learn about their quality of life and help them find resources needed to improve it.
Essie’s Place was started by locals Jeanne Rokosh and Daylene Fleming with the intention of creating a safe harbour and provide support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (or transsexual), questioning (or queer), intersex and two-spirited individuals. Their focus is to network and build social connections, support the delivery of community identified and sanctioned supports and resources, and help create safe pathways to safe spaces for both allies and resistors to access and then learn more about each other.
Fleming said the organization was named after Rokosh’s spouse, “an amazing woman who died way too soon.”
“Unfortunately, because of her upbringing, she wasn’t able to be 100 per cent who she was,” said Fleming.
The first job ahead for Essie’s Place is gathering information, which is being done through three separate public surveys. One asks for general information such as where survey participants live and what they feel the organization could do so “we can all feel more equal in our communities.”
The second survey focuses on quality of life, and the third is specifically for individuals who are gender diverse.
“There’s never been anything like this done before so, through this, we will be able to find out how many people are in our Shuswap community and from there we can provide the support,” said Fleming.
Though the survey’s just went live, Fleming said the calls and feedback received already have indicated there is a need in the region for their organization.
One of those calls, said Fleming, came from a mother whose sons have come out as gay. She said the mom and kids have lost friends as a result, and were struggling to find someone who could empathize. “Both of her boys have decided they pretty much want to home school. They’re very much isolated and there’s no support.”
Fleming said initial federal grant funding for Essie’s Place was for 14 months to support the immediate LGBTIQ2+ community. However, she is finding there are other needs not being addressed, including support for families.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to find the grants and continue this,” said Fleming. “Either way, Jeanne and I will make it work.”
Essie’s Place is for all of the Shuswap (though Fleming has received calls from individuals outside the region). In a couple of months, Fleming said she and Rokosh would like to begin holding of events throughout the region to connect with people.
“From there, I have a feeling it’s going to be a lot of one on one, getting out there, talking to business owners and schools and that kind of stuff just to get our name out there,” said Fleming, adding she and Rokosh also hope to organize an event with the committee behind the Salmon Arm Pride Project Arts & Awareness Festival.
The surveys, and further information about the organization, can be found at essiesplace.ca.