Downtown Eastside Trans Collective offers a safe space, health services, and a voice on public policy

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      A new weekly meeting at the Downtown Eastside’s Drug Users Resource Centre (DURC) promises a safe space for anybody who identifies as transgender.

      Dubbed the “Trans Collective”, the group meets every Friday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at 412 East Cordova Street across from Oppenheimer Park.

      In a telephone interview, its founder and co-facilitator (who identifies as trans), Nikki McWhinney, said the program is still getting off the ground. But she said the idea is for the collective’s members to shape and drive activities themselves.

      “Basically, all I wanted is a safe place for trans people to come, to hang out, and to be themselves,” McWhinney told the Straight. “I’m leaving the programming up to the group. I want it to be their group. I want them to pick what they want.”

      She said the Trans Collective is also providing free hormone-gauge syringes plus trans-friendly harm-reduction supplies. Friday afternoons will see a trans-competent doctor on-site to provide free medical services. DURC also offers a gender-neutral washroom. (While DURC hosts the meetings, non-drug users are of course welcome to attend, McWhinney added.)

      In a separate interview, Kailin See, a program director with the Portland Hotel Society (which runs the Drug Users Resource Centre), noted the services the collective offers might sound simple, but she maintained there are urgent needs.

      “Right now, going to the washroom for trans individuals in our community is dangerous and difficult,” she explained. “So we have identified a few key areas of need for the trans community in our neighbourhood. Like access to clean testosterone-gauge syringes for injecting. Currently there is a big problem with sharing that grade of syringe because they are not readily available.”

      In addition to offering support services, See said the Trans Collective is also becoming a venue through which participants can contribute to public policy. She recalled that McWhinney and another member recently spoke before the Provincial Health Services Authority’s “Transgender/Trans Health Steering Committee”, which is presently revising how trans health care is delivered across B.C.

      Tentatively on the agenda for this week’s meeting, See continued, is a trans health conference that’s happening in Halifax this October. “We’ll start to do some planning about how we might participate in that conference,” she said.

      The Trans Collective is a partnership between the Portland Hotel Society, Pivot Legal Society, and the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV and AIDS.

      Adrienne Smith, a Pivot health and drug policy advocate, spoke at a previous Trans Collective meeting as part of a “know your rights” session.

      “Trans people tend to be disproportionately homeless, they tend to be over-policed, and they tend work in sex work because of rampant employment discrimination,” Smith said. “So it’s really helpful for people to know that they have basic charter rights and basic rights under the human rights code.

      “So I talked about rights trans people have in accessing housing and prohibitions on housing discrimination,” they continued. “And I talked about rights trans people have dealing with the police and in prison.”

      On May 6, UBC and the Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre published a report that’s believed to have involved the largest survey of Canada’s trans population ever taken.

      Key findings were largely negative. The survey of 923 trans people between the ages of 14 and 25 determined the vast majority have encountered physical and emotional abuse and often lack adequate access to health care and other services. However, the report also states trans individuals who live in their felt gender are 50 percent more likely to report good or excellent mental health, and that trans youth who have supportive adults in their life are four times more likely to report good or excellent mental health.

      “Existing research suggests that many trans people experience significant health and social challenges, but also have protective factors that help them to be resilient in the face of those challenges,” the report states.

      See said the Trans Collective has already grown noticeably since McWhinney started it up two months ago. She added DURC staff have also seized on the opportunity to educate themselves in trans issues with the aim of expanding trans-friendly services throughout the Downtown Eastside.

      “It’s only going to get better as we learn more about what is required and become more competent ourselves in meeting those needs,” See said.

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