The 2020 recipient of the 11th annual Ed Bowden Community Wellness Award is the Pictou County Rainbow Community Association for its Parent Support Group.
The award was created by Pictou West and Central/East Pictou Community Health Boards (CHBs) in consultation with family members, in memory of Ed Bowden who devoted his career to improving the health of Pictou County citizens and was the first chair of the Central/East Pictou CHB in 1996.
“This year the Bowden family is honoured to present the award to the Parent Support Group of the Pictou County Rainbow Community Association,” said Michelle Bowden, Ed’s daughter. “We know that stigma and discrimination continues to be experienced by the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in Canada, with children from this community more at risk for decreased social participation and adverse mental and physical health outcomes.”
The Pictou County Rainbow Community Association is a non-profit organization that aims to provide a social support network and advocacy for the local Rainbow community (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual, other gender identities and sexual/romantic orientations). Joy Polley accepted the award on behalf of the Rainbow Community Association. Polley serves as the treasurer and Secretary of the board, and was also the facilitator for the support group.
“It’s an honour to receive this award,” said Polley. “It affirms the importance of inclusive and equitable health care in our community.”
The Ed Bowden Award recognizes a community group supported by a CHB Wellness Fund grant that reflects Bowden’s strong community spirit, the partnerships he built in the community, his passion for leading a healthy lifestyle, his innovative nature, his volunteer contributions, and his legacy as a role model for Nova Scotians.
The need for a Parent Support Group was suggested by youth and parents of 2SLGBTQIA+ children, who wanted a way to provide mutual support for each other and for other parents of children who identify on the 2SLGBTQIA+ spectrum.
“There were some youth that were saying, ‘My parents don’t understand this,’ so we wanted to give them a space where they could learn,” explained Polley. “Every parent who was there wanted to help their kid, but they didn’t know how. Parents needed support, they needed to increase their knowledge of gender and sexuality, and they also needed a safe space to discuss the challenges and emotions that come along when their child comes out. We wanted to create a safe space and a connection, so that they’d have opportunities to talk to others who were facing the same things.”
The group allowed parents at all stages to share and learn from each other. “Some parents — especially with trans kids — are at different places with their child coming to terms with who they are, and then exploring who they are,” said Polley. “It was nice to see a parent who was maybe a few months into their child accepting and transitioning, and then you had one that was like, ‘My kid just came out last week.’ They were able to support each other and say, ‘Yeah, this is what we found and this is what helped us.’ There’s that camaraderie.”
The Rainbow Community Association conducted an evaluation survey with participants when the program ended. They found that parents’ knowledge and understanding had increased, and they felt more confident finding resources for their children after the end of the program. They were also grateful to have a space where they could discuss issues with other parents. “We even had a couple of parents that were like, ‘My kid is a trans boy’ and ‘My kid is a trans girl, I think the clothes that I have left over here might fit your kid!’ — so there was a lot of that kind of collaboration,” said Polley.
If parents feel supported, they can better support their children during what is sometimes a difficult and confusing period. “There’s a disproportionate rate of suicide, especially in trans kids and LGBTQ+ kids, and being able to support a parent gives a better foundation for those kids. The ultimate hope with doing programs like this is to decrease the anxiety rates and the suicide rates in that population,”Polley explained.
Michelle Bowden concurred: “Working in public health for the past 15 years, I understand the importance of social supports at the community level and the impact of social cohesion on health outcomes,” she said. “My father was a big supporter of all children being supported by their community to thrive and be healthy, and the Parent Support Group of the Pictou County Rainbow Community Association provided a safe space for parents to come together in Pictou County to learn and support their 2SLGBTQIA+ children to do just that.”
To learn more about the Pictou County Rainbow Community Association visit www.pcrainbowcommunity.ca.
Submitted by Nova Scotia Health Authority
Joy Polley, left, accepts the Ed Bowden Community Wellness Award on behalf of the Pictou County Rainbow Community Association for its Parent Support Group, from Kim MacLean, co-chair of the Pictou West Community Health Board. (Contributed photo)