Holly is a smart, confident leader with a calm energy, a bright smile, and the gift of presence for those around her who open their hearts and share their stories at Rainbow Resource Centre.
But it wasn’t always this way.
“I spent so much of my life just feeling alone. I thought I was a weirdo. I believed I was a freak and I didn’t think anyone would accept me. I didn’t think there was anyone else out there like me,” Holly remembered.
“To actually find a community and see that I was just a regular person, and then being around other people who are themselves just regular people—it was a sense of connection I never thought I would ever find.
“This community is so uplifting and needed in many people’s lives.”
This year, Rainbow Resource Centre celebrates 50 years of identity, advocacy, and community for 2SLGBTQ+ communities. It is the longest serving, longest running queer and trans community centre in Canada.
Holly is a volunteer facilitator for the organization’s Trans Feminine Circle. The group, primarily for people who are assigned male at birth with a feminine presentation, meets on the third Friday of every month. With Holly and her co-facilitator, Phiona, at the helm, the group has tripled in size—with as many as 30 people from 20 to 60 years old coming together for conversation and communion.
Topics are wide-ranging, like self-acceptance, coping with family struggles, adversity in the world, and dealing with gender dysphoria. Some members are still questioning and seeking to understand and have not yet begun a process of transition, while others—like Holly—are in the later stages of their transition journeys.
Holly said she champions the group as a pathway to love, knowledge, and realization because of the ways it’s helped to make sense of things on her own complex journey to self-acceptance.
“I struggled very much in the early days. I did not accept myself. I ran away from this part of me and just tried to ignore it, saying it’ll go away on its own—but it never actually did. So, I was one of those people who needed support. I needed a lot of help to try and accept myself, to understand myself and grow into my life as a trans woman,” Holly recalled.
“All of these individuals have spent their entire lives, or most of their lives, being raised according to their sex assigned at birth in a world that denies their identity as women. So, coming to understand themselves and find their place in a world where trans people, in particular trans women, face a lot of adversity is very challenging … they have their own struggles just accepting themselves as trans, let alone having to navigate all the challenges in the world as well.
“We try and support each other, provide resources, information, community support—all that type of stuff.”
"Just learning our story might help people to understand what transgender is.”
Winnipegger Adrian is a newer member to the Trans Feminine Circle. She said it has been a pleasure to find a relaxed place to be heard and seen, and to belong.
“The group is basically helping us to just feel like we are welcome. We try not to make it too complicated,” said Adrian. “We are just there to be ourselves, basically, and just enjoy each other’s company.”
Adrian also champions pathways to love and acceptance for 2SLGBTQ+ communities, yet in a different way—she’s preparing to represent Canada at the Miss International Queen pageant in Thailand next month.
“I’m joining to represent Canada because I believe that it would give me the biggest platform to be visible, because my advocacy is trans visibility,” she said. “We face a lot of discrimination in the community. You know, sometimes even going to the bathroom … and people knowing that you’re trans, they would give you a look or they would even say, ‘I’m in the wrong bathroom’ or something. You know, just things like that are something that we face every day.
“Us being visible helps to educate people—and just learning our story might help people to understand what transgender is.”
This week, Adrian and Holly both plan to partake in Pride 2023, when Winnipeg’s gender, sexual and relationship diverse communities and allies come together for a series of events, including a rally at the Manitoba Legislature, a parade, and a festival at The Forks. June is also Pride Month in Manitoba.
The word pride carries significant meaning for 2SLGBTQ+ communities—here at home and around the world, said Rainbow Resource Centre Executive Director Noreen Mian.
“Pride means visibility. Pride means celebration,” Mian said.
“Sometimes we forget to celebrate. Sometimes we forget how important it is to be together … Pride is the ability for us to be who we are, the ability for us to be out and proud—and the ability for us to come together and celebrate as a community.”
United Way Winnipeg has been a partner with Rainbow Resource Centre for about 15 years, supporting its youth program and now more broadly supporting Rainbow’s organizational structure. Mian said she is immensely grateful for the ongoing relationship with United Way Winnipeg and its donors.
“Our partnership with United Way Winnipeg is essential to the work that we do because it supports daily the 2SLGBTQ+ community, but more broadly, our advocacy efforts to ensure that the world is a safe space and that systems are safe for the 2SLGBTQ+ community,” she said.
“We are trying to change the world. We’re trying to help 2SLGBTQ+ folks live in a world that is hostile, and so we also need to change the world. United Way Winnipeg donors are a huge part of how we can achieve that.”
“Don't do this alone.”
Holly said she’s proud to be part of an organization that changes the world one person at a time, creatingspace for people to find peace and build community—just by being themselves.
“I rejected these resources at first … and I regret that. I regret not connecting with people earlier. I regret not connecting with resources earlier,” she said.
“If I could give advice to anyone out there: don’t do this alone. If you can find the strength to reach out and get help, that will be so beneficial in the long run. Don’t run from it, don’t hide from it. Ask for help—and don’t be scared of that help.
“Pride means courage. Courage to be who you are. Courage to not be afraid of what you are.”