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Local resident wants more information about LGBTQ+ community available in North Perth

Zoey Irvine says she would rather have people ask questions about her identity than have people assume they know what life is like for transgender community members in North Perth.

Throughout Pride Month, the Listowel Banner will feature a series of articles exploring the lives of LGBTQ+ community members, their influence on the community and supports available for them, their families and friends in North Perth.

If you felt the need to ask Zoey Irvine how she identifies herself, she would tell you she’s a transgender female and she is pansexual.

“Pansexual stands for finding interest in somebody regardless of sexual identity,” she said. “There is a whole spectrum of gender identity, sexual identity and what it comes down to being pansexual is you find the person attractive for themselves, not their body or the genitalia that they have.”

Irvine explained her sexual preference but she acknowledged it is just one of many existing sexualities that someone might have to Google if they heard it mentioned.

“There are a plethora of other sexualities out there and a lot of people don’t even use the label for their sexuality,” she said. “They just choose to love who they love without having a name behind it.”

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That is why Irvine would love to see more information about the LGBTQ+ community easily available in North Perth.

“It can help a lot of people understand where another person is coming from,” she said.

Although she admitted there are members of the LGBTQ+ community who would prefer not to be bothered, Irvine would much rather people ask her questions and not just assume they know the facts about the LGBTQ+ community.

“We all know the saying about assume,” she said. “I like to think of myself as somebody who likes to educate people… It’s as simple as three questions: what’s your identity, what’s your sexuality and who are you?”

Some people ask more personal questions and Irvine said people might want to stray away from that but at the same time, many are just curious and they don’t necessarily mean any harm.

“I’d much rather people know and understand my side of things because obviously, I’m going to have the best information about who I am,” she said. “I also know that there is a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community that will never want to (answer) those questions at all. Humans are humans and they all have their ideas and comfort zone.”

Irvine grew up in Fordwich, a village she described as pretty secluded.  She attended high school in Listowel which she said was the biggest challenge when it came to her identity.

“You have so many different people and so many different views and a lot of different ideologies based around the LGBTQ+  community,” she said.

It isn’t an everyday occurrence, but there have been a few times in workplaces that Irvine has felt uncomfortable with people’s responses to who she is as a person.

“I’ve had great experiences with parents, home life and a lot of my extended family is with it as well,” said Irvine. “That was one of the biggest things because you need to have a support group, especially for transitioning, even coming out in general you want to have a support group that’s there for you and can help understand what you are going through.”

She hasn’t seen too much support in the community for LGBTQ+ issues.

“One of the biggest… support groups was through teachers and counsellors at school – realistically every teacher wants to see the best future for every student so they want to try to support them in every way possible, but when it comes to actual organizations in our community, especially in Listowel, I haven’t heard of one recently,” said Irvine. “Obviously I’d love for that to change.”

When she was attending Listowel District Secondary School there was a Gay-Straight Alliance that offered some support and connection with other schools across the Avon Maitland District School Board.

“Apart from that there is not a lot through school,” said Irvine. “The Gay-Straight Alliance has a Pride Day but in my personal opinion I don’t know if that was executed very well.”

North Perth may be a small community but she said even here there is a lot of different ideas based on what the LGBTQ+ community is.

“It’s mainly a generational thing,” said Irvine. “I would like to think (there is more acceptance from young people), especially as the world changes and we see a lot of publicity about Pride and more publicity about the LGBTQ+ community in general.”

With so much access to information on the internet, she feels a lot of youth are self-teaching.

“You find every sort of ideology and it’s very easy for somebody to find information… about the LGBTQ+ community that can easily help someone who is just questioning or just wants to know more about it,” said Irvine.

Parents also teach their children about how they feel about the LGBTQ+ community and she hopes that is positive.

“I understand there are parents who don’t agree with the LGBTQ+ community and obviously that is their personal preference, but at the same time everyone just wants to be accepted at the end of the day,” said Irvine.

Irvine believes having more information and support for the LGBTQ+ community will be positive for both youth and adults in this area.

“There are adults who will go their entire life questioning their sexuality or gender identity and they just don’t have the knowledge or the information to find the answers they might be looking for,” she said. “I think it would be great to have even a small organization or program that can help people in the community with questions or concerns… Obviously with me being younger… I don’t necessarily have a perfect standpoint on how it would be easier for them to learn but I also know that having that access to those types of things could help somebody in their late adult years.”

Irvine said she has been told by some members of the local LGBTQ+ community that they have had issues with acceptance in workplaces.

“It honestly sucks to hear it because you want to hear everyone living their best life, having a great time,” she said.

For Irvine, there have been moments in her former workplaces where the intent of people’s comments or actions towards her was ambiguous and made her wonder what their intent was but she said her current employer, Domino’s Pizza, has been very accepting.

“When it comes to my actual immediate workplace, inside the store, it’s great,” she said. “I have a great time, there is nothing that is realistically said or done, at least to me personally, that is questionable or a point of concern.”

However, Irvine is a delivery driver and she said there are times when she shows up at somebody’s house with an order and the response from the customer is not as accepting.

“I guess it’s based on how they see me,” she said. “Basically when it comes to that side of my job it’s a lot of straight face, get the job done and go back to the store. It’s typically not a lot of conversing with the customer.”

Irvine noted that religion is a prominent part of North Perth society and it affects ideas surrounding the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Some people in their churches accept it, some people don’t,” she said. “I love the saying – you can’t form hate, you can only be taught it.”

As words like diversity and inclusion become buzzwords in our local vocabulary, Irvine responds with a “yes and no” answer when she was asked whether this was positive for the LGBTQ+ community.

“It’s kind of a difficult push for a lot of people but at the same time I feel there’s a lot of people becoming more knowledgeable about the presence of LGBTQ+ youth and adults in their community and everyday life,” she said. “I hope that people understand that no matter how they feel they are going to come into contact with somebody from the LGBTQ+ community and obviously how they act is a big reflection upon themselves.”

Irvine thinks the community is moving towards a better understanding and better knowledge of the LGBTQ+ community but she also feels there is still a very long way to go.

“When I was growing up and attending school, which wasn’t very long ago, there was next to no talk about the LGBTQ+ community,” she said. “So even I have a lot to learn when it comes to the ever-changing LGBTQ+ community.”

As things move forward and there is more positive acceptance, Irvine said there will always be outliers but if more people are knowledgeable it would go a very long way into helping trans youth and adults in our community. In her experience, gay and lesbian acceptance seems to be more common than trans or nonbinary acceptance.

“I think that’s par for the course on that one,” she said. “There is a lot more, I guess a good word for it would be distaste, for people who are wanting to change their gender identity… the sad part that I’ve noticed for me is it is a lot of talk about genitalia.”

She said it can be very difficult to tell someone who strongly believes in a hetero normative ideology that people are more than just what’s in their pants.

“There is a lot of people especially when I was in high school, so my age, who were very against transgender people, yet had no issues with people who want to love the same sex, the same gender,” said Irvine. “It was very disappointing to hear that because if they want those people to be happy with who they are, why is there so much stipulation for other people wanting to love who they are?”

She said she could sit down and answer questions all day based around transgender people from her point of view, but having information readily available for people through schools and community outreach would be a positive thing for North Perth.

Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.