Initiative supports LGBTQ people by furnishing free programming ranging from bike building to sailing in a safe environment
By Scott Wheeler
June 23, 2017
A Toronto LGBTQ program for transgender youth is breaking down barriers and bringing communities together through free non-competitive sports programming.
Spark: Trans Youth Sports, a program designed to give transgender youth aged 16 to 29 “the chance to explore sport in a safe environment,” is offered by The 519, a City of Toronto agency that provides support to the LGBTQ community.
“It has been a very rich experience and I get to meet different people,” said Eli Carmona, 27. “It’s not just doing sports. We’ve done cooking, we went to a winter retreat together to explore different types of activities and it was an amazing experience.”
Spark recently wrapped up working with Charlie’s FreeWheels build-a-bike program. Beginning July 6, they’ll launch a six-week sailing program on Lake Ontario in partnership with the Broad Reach Foundation for Youth Leaders.
Broad Reach works to help youth defined as at-risk or disadvantaged through “the sport, science and mastery of sailing,” according to its executive director, Marguerite Pyron.
“(Sailing) bridges the gap between people who have a lot and people who don’t to create an environment where there is closer engagement with the diverse population in the community to help the youth believe in themselves,” she said.
Luke Fox, Spark’s co-ordinator, says the program helps the transgender community engage people across the city.
“It has been a really unique and incredible opportunity to watch folks grow,” Fox said. “To be able to offer programs that I wanted to access when I was a youth is really meaningful.”
When Spark uses spaces outside of The 519, they offer transgender inclusion workshops with the host organization’s staff.
“Maybe the organization doesn’t feel as confident in certain areas. We like to go in ahead of time and work with them to build up their confidence around trans inclusion so that we know when we access that space, everyone feels comfortable and they’re entering this space with a shared understanding,” Fox, said.
Pyron is excited for the trans-inclusive training her staff will receive.
“A lot of volunteers in our program have not so much exposure to the LGBTQ community because sailing is still very much a traditional discipline,” she said. “We’re breaking some ceilings and barriers and that’s a good thing.”
Fox hopes the spaces Spark uses remain accessible to the transgender community long after their six-week experiences.
He wants to expand Spark’s inclusion-based sports programming across the province and beyond too.
“It builds a lot of confidence among participants in being able to build relationships with people,” Fox finished.