Youth resource program flies its flag proudly

LGBT community finds safe haven in centre’s support group

By Jessica Botelho-Urbanski for the Winnipeg Free Press. 

When Shawn Lagimodiere made his way back to the Rainbow Resource Centre (RRC) this week after a year away, he said it felt as welcoming as ever.

Lagimodiere, 21, gave his old youth counsellor, Dianna Grywinski, a hug before they ventured into the Peer Project for Youth room, a large lounge near the back of the Scott Street building, a few blocks from the heart of Osborne Village.

Shawn Lagimodiere, left, chats with youth councillor Dianna Grywinski, right, at the centre. BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Shawn Lagimodiere, left, chats with youth councillor Dianna Grywinski, right, at the centre. BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The lounge boasts big comfy couches, an in-suite kitchenette and a flat-screen TV, which Lagimodiere noticed as a new addition right away.

“Just walking in, you see all the (rainbow) flags, you see all the signs — it’s a very welcoming environment. So honestly, I don’t think anything’s really changed other than the inanimate objects,” he joked.

RRC has been supporting the LGBT community in Winnipeg for 41 years, and its Peer Project for Youth program has been sponsored by United Way Winnipeg since 2006.

The program is a support group for LGBT youth and hosts evening sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays, and a field trip every third Saturday of the month.

Youth get together for educational presentations and skill-building classes. They learn practical things such as self-defence and banking, and also have fun with some good old-fashioned movie nights, bowling outings and arts and crafts.

Feeling confused about his sexuality at 16, Lagimodiere did an online search for counselling services and was surprised to find the program.

“I was looking more towards counselling, but as soon as I found something on Google that was with youth, I was surprised because I wasn’t expecting to see that,” he said. “A lot of people who come here are trying to seek help and trying to seek who they are within themselves, like me. Trying to fit in.”

Lagimodiere was in the closet when he attended his first session at 16. After getting hit on by another participant, he realized he wasn’t ready for the new environment just then.

“(The other participants) were so open about whom they were and here I was — I wasn’t really as open as I am now. So it was very overwhelming,” he said.

He came back more confident at 18 and attended Peer Project for Youth faithfully for two years.

He still returns on occasion and said he’s referred friends to the program.

The support Lagimodiere felt from his RRC friends and counsellors helped him battle depression. He also worked up the courage to come out to his family.

“I just kind of went out straight. I was like, ‘Hello Ma, I love you. Um, I’m bisexual,’ ” he remembered. “She was just going on about her day, and she was like, ‘What? Oh, OK. I already knew.’ ”

Grywinski said she’s witnessed many success stories such as Lagimodiere’s at RRC. Still, she would like to see the stigma surrounding the LGBT community stop so support programs such as this are no longer necessary.

“I think it’s therapeutic in itself having this program because it gives folks the support if they’re not sure yet; it gives them that kind of freedom to explore. It offers a space that celebrates your identity and fosters resiliency,” she said.

“In some ways, I kind of hope that (the need for the program would stop). I’d be out of a job,” she added, with a laugh. “But yeah, that would be incredible to live in a world where we just accept who we are and get along and be at peace.”

If you would to help Rainbow Resource Centre with a donation to United Way Winnipeg, visit www.unitedwaywinnipeg.ca/give or call 204-477-UWAY (8929).

REPUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE WINNIPEG FREE PRESS PRINT EDITION November 7, 2015