Winnipeg housing complex will support 2SLGBTQ seniors to be out and proud as they age

A Winnipeg organization is creating affordable housing units geared toward 2SLGBTQ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) seniors so they don’t need to be closeted to access greater supports as they age.

Noreen Mian, the executive director of the Rainbow Resource Centre, hopes to break ground on the 21 units at 545 Broadway in the fall, with residents able to move in within two years.

“This is the first generation of out and proud 2SLGBTQ+ seniors who are entering long-term care. Prior to this, it was the silent generation. People just didn’t talk about their sexuality,” Mian said in an interview on CBC Manitoba’s Up to Speed on Monday. 

“So although this is the generation who fought for equality in the 70s and 80s, the health-care system is just a little bit slow to catch up with those systemic changes that would make it safe for everybody to receive care and to be out and proud in that environment.”

The Rainbow Resource Centre purchased the property, which includes the 118-year-old Wilson House, with a loan from the Jubilee Fund, and in partnership with West Broadway Community Organization and Westminster Housing Society.

The housing society also received $5 million from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rapid Housing Initiative.

The partnership will also allow the Rainbow Resource Centre to move from its location in Osborne Village to the new property within two years.

Housing will help people ‘live our full lives’

Spaces for 2SLGBTQ people to live authentically are in high demand, says Albert McLeod, a two-spirit person and advocate in Winnipeg.

“As you age, you’re less able to advocate for yourself and then you become dependent on — or more dependent on — systems. In this case, a lot of our options for housing, especially as you age, like personal care homes are very limited, and they’re very heteronormative in their design,” they said in an interview on Monday.

“As we age, we like to live our full lives and enjoy our lives as queer people, whatever that entails.”

McLeod, who is turning 67 this year, hopes more specialized 2SLGBTQ spaces are created in Manitoba for personal care homes, hospices and palliative care.

He also hopes there are safe spaces and opportunities for older two-spirit people to practice their culture in the new housing complex.

Albert McLeod hopes these housing units for 2SLGBTQ people are the first of many in the province. (University of Winnipeg)

Mian said the centre is working closely with people from the two-spirit and Indigenous communities on the project “to ensure that we are honouring the two-spirit way of life and … Indigenous culture.”

“And the Indigenous permaculture garden that is currently on site is being tended to by an elder who will live in one of the units. One of those units is reserved specifically for her,” Mian said.

“So we see this as walking alongside the Indigenous and two-spirit community to ensure a welcoming space.”

Lynn Frost, 66, says it’s important to live authentically in one’s older age, especially because so many people in the 2SLGBTQ community have had to repress their true selves for so long.

“If I can’t live the authentic me as a trans person, then what’s the bother? What purpose do I have in living? If somebody is trying to stifle my real self, authentic self, or if I’m trying to do that, then I’m not being honest with myself,” she said.

“I’ll continue living my authentic self until I die, because now I’m not ashamed of who I am.”

Mian said the centre is hoping the new space will be a welcoming, safe one for people in the neighbourhood and the 2SLGBTQ community.

“We’re creating a place of pride,” Mian said. “People can come in and enjoy the centre, maybe grab a cup of coffee.”

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