A Statement from speqtrum Co-Founder Jyssika Russell

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I wanted to take some time to share with you some important news, for both speqtrum and myself. In this time, when we are all planning to enter a new, post-pandemic chapter, I’m starting a whole new book. At the end of this month, I’ll be leaving speqtrum.

Unlike many farewells, I am not leaving with a heavy heart. I’m leaving with home – hope in the next generation, trust in the transformative power of young people, and confidence in the resiliency and power of my 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

Speqtrum, like all good things, started with a seed. I, along with the other co-founders of speqtrum, dreamed of a Hamilton where queer and trans youth had a space – just a simple space – to be ourselves. Somewhere that we could exist without questions, where we didn’t have to constantly advocate for ourselves, where we could find kinship- when so many of us have lost connection to our families of origin because of phobia, hate, and difference. We wanted to find our community, after much of it was lost after the closure of bars and community spaces in 2015. YWCA provided us with a garden bed to plant that seed. For the first time in my memory, our community had spaces to exist that weren’t in a basement, that were physically accessible, where we could hang out – play dodgeball, video games, just … exist.

I turned thirty the week before the first COVID shut down. Having aged out of the program I co-founded, I was excited to start the process of passing the torch. With our already isolated community going further into isolation from one another, we had no choice but to step up, and offer not only our usual social planning, but expand into direct supports. The need for these existed pre-COVID, and was exacerbated by repeated lockdowns, school closures, and instability.

What we learned throughout COVID has been how important it is to have consistent, established programs and organizations for 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. It is devastating how rare these are in Hamilton. We are one of the oldest, most consistent 2SLGBTQIA+ programs in the city, and we’ve only been operating since 2017.

This inconsistency in supports is just a symptom of the larger issue – one that our community has been aware of for years, but was made clearer after Pride 2019. Hamilton has been failing its 2SLGBTQIA+ and other marginalized communities. Without tangible support, community-run organizations and agencies are left to fend for themselves, begging for scraps while trying to cover gaps that are infinitely larger than their capacities, gaps created by systemic inequities.

Historically, 2SLGBTQIA+ supports in social services are run by a sole 2SLGBTQIA+ staff member, sometimes on the side of their desk. Loneliness and isolation exists not just for those served, but also by those supporting their own community. There haven’t been any studies, but if there were, I’d guess that the rate of burnout in 2SLGBTQIA+ supports in Hamilton would be near 100%.

By supporting speqtrum, YWCA Hamilton gave us the space to create community, to build a team, to mentor each other, and be mentored. YWCA Hamilton gave us the microphone/freedom to be youth-led, to share our voice, to amplify each other. With this amalgamation, speqtrum will have its voice, its leadership, its creativity, and its energy, and these qualities will be made stronger with the longevity, perseverance, and expertise of YWCA Hamilton.

To know that youth in Hamilton will continue to have a place that is theirs brings me great comfort. To know that there won’t be a time where 2SLGBTQIA+ youth have nowhere to go, where they will have a safe haven, brings me great relief. To see emerging supports for 2SLGBTQIA+ newcomers, QTBIPOC youth, Two Spirit youth, trans-related healthcare, and trans feminine folks, through speqtrum and our community partners (De dwa de dehs nye>s, Hamilton Trans Health Coalition, Compass Community Health Centre, among others) brings me great joy. To see the next generation of speqtrum staff in action brings me great hope.

In Solidarity,

Jyssika Russell

Co-Founder, speqtrum

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