Tatiana Ferguson on transforming policies and programs for the LGBTQ2S+ community across Canada

Tatiana Ferguson is dedicated to improving the lives of youth and believes strongly in volunteering to support numerous organizations across Ontario. In addition to giving time and influencing change, Tatiana has served on multiple committees to promote trans visibility and inclusion of people of colour in developing and promoting programs for LGBTQ2S+ youth.

We connect with Tatiana to learn more about the impact, significance and stories behind the work underway. Read our full interview now.

Tatiana Ferguson.
  1. You are involved in so many different projects, communities and organizations. May you describe the projects you’re currently working on and supporting?

Currently I am working on the TransFormed project at METRAC; a research and intervention project that seeks to understand and respond to Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence (DV/IPV) in trans, two-spirit, gender non-conforming and non-binary communities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). I am also working with the Black Queer Youth Collective on Domino Project at Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre; a peer-led youth program that provides a safe and supportive learning environment for Black LGBTQ2S+ youth in Toronto to develop life skills to thrive.

  1. In all that you do, you advocate for human rights, but you also work as a human rights advocate, independently. May you describe the causes for which you’re currently supporting and advocating?

My work focus on LGBTQ2S+ issues, trans health, sexual health and HIV/AIDS, public policy, community engagement, migration related issues and ethical research practices. I am supporting Rainbow Health Ontario Trans Health Expansion Project, The Anti-Black Racism Strategy, the Toronto For All campaign and legislation in support of providing additional gender option for trans and non-binary individuals on federal documents.

  1. What long-lasting impact do you hope your work with the TransFormed project at METRAC will have?

I am hoping that the interventions developed for the trans community from the TransFormed project will encourage trans community members to seek help when in a crisis or while searching for information and support. I am also hoping that service providers in the health and sexual assault/domestic violence sector will be trained to better support trans survivors of IPV.

In addition, I hope that law enforcement will be trained to better respond to cases of domestic violence involving trans people. According to a Trans PULSE study – a research project of the social determinants of health among trans people in Ontario – many cases of physical violence, sexual assault and harassment often go unreported due to fear of ill treatment and harassment by police officers. Ultimately, I hope that the resources developed by the TransFormed project will serve multiple purposes in different sectors to reduce violence against trans people socially and systemically in Ontario and throughout Canada.

  1. You also work at Sherbourne Health Centre as a HEAT (Human Rights, Equity, Access and Team) Facilitator. What about this role is important to you?

SOY HEAT is an amazing leadership and anti-oppression training for LGBTQ2S+ youth. The program was designed to encourage LGBTQ2S+ youth to learn about anti-oppression and develop facilitation skills to conducts workshops in the community. I think it is important for youth to have opportunities to share their experience and knowledge on issues that are significant  to them. I also think it is critical for youth to network with like-minded folks involved in social justice and advocacy work. These two factors are the most valuable to me, when it comes to some of the community education work youth facilitators do through SOY HEAT.

  1. Why have you been compelled to immerse yourself in making change?

There are many factors that have contributed to me deciding to do the work that I do. My personal experience with accessing programs and services helped me to identify some service gaps and the support and encouragement from my mentors and community leaders has motivated me to make a difference. My work continues to be informed by my lived experience and my desire to live and access services in a positive, affirming environment free from judgement and bias.

  1. So much of your work supports the LGBTQ2S+ community. What positive change have you seen since you started your work? Where is there a gap in progress?

Since my arrival to Canada from the Bahamas in 2014, I’ve seen changes from the community level up to the provincial and federal governments. The biggest changes I have noticed are that more people are coming out and transitioning and there is a lot more support from allies who want to learn about LGBTQ2S+ issues and create safe spaces for LGBTQ2S+ folks. I think the biggest milestone to date is the passing of Bill C-16 in the Human Rights Act and Criminal Code.

On the provincial level, there has also been a lot of advocating for accessible spaces and provincial identification that aligns with one’s gender identity. Hence the changes to the Ontario driver’s license and health card. The City of Toronto is also seeking to support LGBTQ2S+ folks by identifying the needs of trans youth so that considerations can be made to be more inclusive of the diverse population in Toronto.

I am truly proud to have been a part of some of the consultations with a few of the government ministries, the Ontario Human Rights Commissioners and community organizations. Together, we are bringing recognition to the needs of the LGBTQ2S+ community and collectively making recommendations to address the systemic and institutionalized barriers for meaningful engagement of LGBTQ2S+ folks. However, there is still a lot of work needed to support marginalized folks who may be youth, indigenous, racialized, immigrants, refugees, homeless and/or living with a disability.

Tatiana (second from the left) at the Transcending Love Symposium at Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention. Photo by: Yasmeen Persad.
  1. Where do you think organizations need to now focus their efforts, to ensure positive impact continues?

Depending on the sector, organizations need to continue to educate and train staff and volunteers. Marginalized groups continue to experience challenges accessing programs and services, so organizations should focus their efforts on creating culturally specific programs or adapting existing programs to be more inclusive. Private companies may also want to revise their hiring and recruitment practices as LGBTQ2S+ are still disproportionately affected by unemployment. I think a lot more effort is needed to work directly with trans and queer people to ensure the positive impact continues.

  1. What is the hardest part about the work that you do? How do you stay motivated to keep going?

The hardest part about the work I do is taking time off to take care of myself. I think self-care is really important but often there is so much to do with multiple deadlines. I try to have a balanced life and do things I enjoy beyond work, which often results in me offering opportunities I am unable to participate in to people within my network. I am able keep a positive outlook because I have many amazing folks who at random moments remind me how much I mean to them and encourage me to continue to do the work. Their support and positive energy helps to uplift me and often brightens my gloomy days.

  1. At Pride Toronto 2016, you were the Stage Manager for the Black Queer Youth (BQY) stage and you created Perception, a support group for newcomers, refugees and asylum seekers at EGALE Youth OUTreach. Throughout these experiences, you must have met so many wonderful people with empowering, life-changing stories. Is there one story that continues to inspire you today?

Because I am a part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, my work is so much more meaningful to me. As a community member doing community work, there are so many amazing people that I have met. The stories from participants in my newcomer support group continue to be the most inspiring. Reflecting on the challenges and discrimination folks experienced in their home countries to come to Canada to seek asylum with little money, clothes and support and find a sense of community is a true testament of resilience. I continue to be inspired by the successes they share with me, such as finding their first apartment, getting a job, beginning their transition publicly and knowing that they want me to celebrate these big moments in their lives with them.

Words can’t express how grateful I am to know that I was able to make a minor contribution to big changes in some folks’ lives.

  1. What has your experience been like in Toronto over the last four years?

Toronto is an amazing city, very different from my hometown in the Bahamas. Overall, it has been a great experience. However, adjusting to urban life proved quite challenging for me. I think the first two-years were the most difficult. Luckily, I found a great source of support from many educators and community members who continue to make living in the city worthwhile.

  1. What’s your favorite part of Toronto to explore?

I generally like the street festivals and jazz bars. I’m often looking for new places to see and things to do. Live music and visual art are the most entertaining to me.

  1. How can other Torontonians commit to giving back and improving life in this city?

There are many opportunities to volunteer, participate in community initiatives and connect with folks who share your interest online or in-person. I encourage folks to connect with organizations that do work in an area you are interested in and see how they would like you to support them. You can also connect on social media and join the conversation on equity and social justice, while also sharing  information about issues that impact all residents in Toronto.

Tatiana, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and for giving all of yourself to the much-needed improvements required within governing bodies across Ontario and the country. Your wisdom, dedication and passion via lived-experience is invaluable. Not only are you changing the way policy is created and transformed, but you’re altering conversations for the better, everywhere.

We can’t wait to hear what’s next for you and the countless communities you inspire.

For more information about Tatiana, reach out and request to connect on LinkedIn.

Tatiana at Breakfast Television with co-presenter Robbie Ahmed for the Toronto for All campaign. Photo by: Jessica McGraw.

The feature photo is of Tatiana speaking at the UNIFOR conference in Port Elgin, Ont. Photo by: Shereta Bower.

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