Gender support group forms
Parents start St. Albert PFLAG chapter to help local families
By: Scott Hayes
| Posted: Saturday, Mar 08, 2014 06:00 am
Second Wednesday of every month
First meeting is on Wednesday, March 12 from 6 to 8 p.m.
St. Albert United Church, 20 Green Grove Drive.
For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There will be a rainbow over downtown St. Albert as a new PFLAG chapter is starting for the first time in the city.
Formerly known as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, PFLAG is the international organization that offers help to anyone – parents, families, friends, and straight allies of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community – who is dealing with issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Terry and Natalie Soetaert are the local organizers behind the new group. Their daughter came out as a lesbian two years ago and they looked for local supports but the closest PFLAG group that they could find was at the University of Alberta.
“We attended the group in Edmonton and we thought, ‘You know what? There’s nothing like this in St. Albert’. It’s about time,” Natalie said.
“High schools have GSAs,” she continued, referring to Gay Straight Alliance clubs, “but there isn’t really a group for parents and friends. There’s many families who don’t know anybody who is gay or transgender or bisexual and they really don’t know what to do. It’s the one safe place that people can come.”
Terry added that learning about a friend or relative’s sexuality can have an emotional impact that leaves many people struggling to understand the situation and what it means.
“That’s what we believed: ‘Why is this happening to us?’ It’s not happening to us; it was just happening.”
“We felt like we needed to bring it to the community because the community needs support. We got so much support from it and felt like we could help give support to other people,” Natalie continued. She said that a St. Albert chapter would also be a valuable resource for people from Sturgeon County and other rural areas around the city.
The first meeting takes place next Wednesday and will continue on the second Wednesday of every month. Attendance is free. People are welcomed into the group. Each meeting has a guide but there is no set structure. The discussion is determined by the participants.
Along with the discussion, attendees can access resources and counselling, and learn about health issues, among other things.
According to the Soetaerts, having PFLAG in their lives was important to their health and wellness, and to that of their daughter as well. They discovered that it was also a place where they could celebrate.
“We’ve seen what the gains were in four or five sessions. We saw the difference it made for us and the difference it makes for people in general. Some people come in and they’re very closed and upset about what they’re going through,” Natalie said.
“It’s not a counselling session but if you’ve had a really crappy week and your child is being rude to you or feeling unsupported at school or feeling like nobody gets them, you can talk to a bunch of other people who are feeling those same feelings. And if somebody needs to come there and cry, they’re allowed. We push the Kleenex box around all the time.”
“It’s the openness. It’s the community. There’s other people going through the same thing at the same time. It’s hard to deal with these things by yourself. A lot of times the discussion goes where it needs to go. Every single time I learn things I didn’t know before.”
They feel certain that there are many people in the community that this would benefit but they don’t really know how many will come to the meeting.
“There’s going to be two for sure,” he joked.
Out Loud for youths
The Soetaerts area also starting a youth group called Out Loud. It isn’t associated with PFLAG but still resides on the foundation of helping the LGBTQ community, except this one is for the LGBTQ youths themselves. It’s “for youth to come and connect as a community … with a bit of a spiritual component to it,” Natalie said. Terry clarified that it’s still non-denominational but it’s more for the participants to talk about whatever they want.
“Camp fYrefly is only once a year,” she said, referring to the educational, social, and personal learning retreat for LGBTQ and allied youth. “Kids in the LGBTQ community need to know that there’s other kids out there doing and feeling the same things that they feel.”
The first group will be happening on March 19 at St. Paul’s United Church, 11526 76 Avenue in Edmonton. The Soetaerts are also determined to start an Out Loud group in St. Albert as well.
There are three Camp fYrefly events taking place in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Edmonton event occurs from July 24 to 27. The annual Camp fYrefly Gala fundraiser is on Saturday, March 15. More details can be found at www.fyrefly.ualberta.ca.
People can learn more about what PFLAG has to offer by visiting www.pflagcanada.ca.