Last names have been omitted to protect identities.
In an office within the YWCA’s Hamilton headquarters on MacNab Street lays the home base for Hamilton’s latest initiative to connect LGBTQ+ youth. Speqtrum Hamilton, a non-profit organization housed under the YWCA, hosts monthly events and workshops for LGBTQ+ youth aged 17-29, and focuses on creating connections and teaching youth new skills.
Founded by three McMaster alumni, Speqtrum Hamilton holds sessions twice a month offering a variety of activities such as knitting circles, dodgeball tournaments and letter writing workshops. Speqtrum Hamilton is funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and housed under the local YWCA.
Speqtrum Hamilton is meant to fill the void left after the shutdown of LGBT+ friendly bars and the LGBTQ+ Wellness Centre of Hamilton. Currently run by Jyssika, the project coordinator and Jiya, the program coordinator, the two hope to offer LGBTQ+ spaces outside of post-secondary institutions.
“When I went to McMaster, I found a lot of community in spaces like the Queer Students Community Centre and spaces like that but I noticed there wasn’t a lot happening outside of Mac and with the fall of the [LGBTQ+ Wellness Centre], Hamilton’s only queer agency, which collapsed about three or four years ago, there really wasn’t anything,” said Jyssika. “Considering barriers queer students face just to access school, or maybe you lose financial support from your parents, that kind of thing, or maybe you’re just not interested in going to school, then you don’t really have those spaces,” she said.
“There’s no specific [LGBTQ+] space that’s continuous, and the nice thing about Speqtrum Hamilton is that it’s every single month,” Jiya said.
“Considering barrieres queer students face just to access school, or maybe you lose financial support from your parents, that kind of thing, or maybe you’re just not interested in going to school, then you don’t really have those spaces.”
Jyssika cites the recent gentrification of Hamilton’s downtown core as one of the reasons for the shutdown of popular LGBTQ+ bars like the Embassy, a once popular club on King Street West.
“I think that, especially in Hamilton and the gentrification that’s happened in the last five years, unfortunately, that gentrification in a way also comes some different queer acceptance in spaces — generally gentrified spaces are more queer-infused, and there was a comfort level queer people had going to other places outside of traditional spaces that probably affected business in spaces,” said Jyssika.
Jiya also cites the lack of connection between LGBTQ+ services and service providers as another aspect of the decline of LGBTQ+ spaces in Hamilton.
“So for example, if you’re not connected to a service provider, it’s a lot harder to be connected with the different things that are happening for queer youth. And that’s not to say there aren’t groups here and there. … There’s no specific [LGBTQ+] space that’s continuous, and the nice thing about Speqtrum Hamilton is that it’s every single month,” Jiya said. Speqtrum Hamilton focuses on offering a variety of activities in hopes of building different communities within the LGBTQ+ community in Hamilton.
“Some of the most lasting connections I made at school were through theatre or doing something together or learning a skill together, rather than the classic form of ‘alright, let’s put a bunch of people with a shared identity and expect them to be best friends’,” Jyssika said.
“Ideally if you don’t find comfort in one space, you’ll find comfort in another. We want to create spaces for people to learn skills to learn how to create community,” she added.
While Speqtrum Hamilton currently focuses on offering diverse programming, both Jyssika and Jiya plan on creating community building workshops to teach LGBTQ+ youth how to plan their own events and community build on their own.
As the service continues to grow, both hope to offer a sense of community in Hamilton.
“We’re trying to offer consistency, and offer a space that people know and that they can invest in,” said Jyssika.
From letter writing workshops to swim nights, Speqtrum Hamilton hopes to build communities for LGBTQ+ youth living in an ever changing city.