Pieces to Pathways Offers Peer Support for the LGBT Community

on Saturday, 12 March 2016. Posted in Breaking News

Pieces to Pathways Offers Peer Support for the LGBT Community

In recent years, the LGBT community has made tremendous strides in increasing its visibility, and fighting for equality, protection against discrimination, and fighting for marriage rights.

However, community members and allies should not forget that the community continues to face other challenges as well. The exact rates of substance abuse disorders among sexual minorities is not fully known, but SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, estimates it may be as high as 20 or 30 percent, compared with 9 percent overall.

Dr. Jeremy Goldbach, a professor at the University of California's School of Social Work, estimates that substance abuse may be twice as prevalent among LGBT youth. In spite of this great need, it's often very difficult for people in the queer-identifying community to get support for the ways their unique situations and narratives affect their recovery journeys.

Geoff Delfin and Tim McConnell met in recovery circles in Toronto. Both have been sober for seven years, but they recognized that there weren't many resources for people like them, LGBT or other queer-identifying youth in need of addiction treatment.

Like many in the recovery movement, they decided to fill that need by starting something themselves; and thus Pieces to Pathways, or P2P was born, specifically to meet the needs of queer and trans youth seeking recovery from their addictions.

A New Vision:
P2P calls itself "a peer-led initiative creating Canada's first substance use support program for LGBTTQQ2SIA youth 16 to 29 years old in Toronto." The expanded acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, two-spirit, intersex, and asexual.

Speaking to Britni de la Cretaz writing for The Fix, Delfin explains that "that's not an exclusive or exhaustive list." P2P thus strives to be as inclusive as possible, bringing in and providing services to people who would otherwise have a hard time finding safe and supportive treatment that is respectful to all aspects of their identity.

Deflin identifies as they and them, and talks about the frustrations many trans people may face in traditional recovery settings, where their identity may not be understood or accepted. When "they have to explain their identity, explain what it means to be trans, and explain their pronouns," just to get help for their addiction, it puts undue stress on the person in need of care.

That's just one of the many examples of why many in the Toronto LGBT community felt the need for a safe place of their own. Deflin and McConnell conducted internal needs-assessment research, surveying 640 youth between January-March 2015, and found that 65.8 percent of those surveyed "wanted LGBT-specific services delivered by LGBTQ people themselves." Of those LGBTTQQ2SIA who tried other services not geared towards their identity, 65.1 percent said they had a negative experience.

Filling this need, P2P was born. It offers substance abuse support for queer and trans youth in an entirely peer-run and peer-led support group. Everyone participating have lived experiences of being a sexual minority, and everyone has lived experiences with addiction and recovery. In this way, everyone speaks to and encourages each other, in whatever they are facing.

Challenges, and Hope:
The group was first launched on an experimental level since September 2015. They are working to create a program model, and using the peer working groups to allow for feedback and flexibility. The goal is to have everyone involved in the organization able to have a say in how the group moves forward.

Since January 2016, P2P has consisted of two groups, one for harm-reduction, and the other for abstinence. Participants are free to move into whatever group they feel comfortable being a part of, and there is hope that some in the harm reduction group will be able to start working towards total sobriety in the future.

P2P is a new organization with an exciting vision of meeting its community's unique needs in the recovery movement. "The ultimate goal is full-fledged queer and trans support substance use support services for youth in Toronto," either something they build themselves, or by educating and helping other recovery organizations know how to best make services more accessible and welcoming to queer and trans youth. Addiction is something that can affect anyone, from any walk of life imaginable. Services that take people's full experiences into account, providing a safe space free of judgement, are vitally needed.

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