I’ve spent the last four weeks in Toronto, working on project #GTADiscourse. My colleague Sadiya Ansari and I have been talking to residents in Little Portugal, Brampton, Scarborough and Willowdale — communities whose diverse stories aren’t captured well by existing media. (To learn more about how we chose these four places, read this.)
We conducted in-depth interviews with 15 residents from each community, asking everyone the same 11 questions about their neighbourhood, including how they get information and what local stories they think deserve more attention. From housing and transit to education and healthcare, they provided nuanced perspectives on problems and solutions.
Through my work in the space, I know that gender issues are truly intersectional — they cut across spheres. Our gender expression and identity can deeply impact our experiences of the communities we live in, particularly when it comes to how safe and included we feel.
So, although I wasn’t focusing on gender issues in the Greater Toronto Area, I still came away with stories about gender and identity. Here are some highlights:
Fateha Hossain loves living in Scarborough, though her biggest problem is “having to grapple with the general [perception] of Scarborough that’s very negative.”
She adds that she’s “constantly” having to defend her hometown: “It’s just so ingrained in people’s heads about what Scarborough is and what it isn’t.”
What is distinctly Scarborough, Fateha says, is its inclusive energy. As a queer woman of colour, she’s always felt comfortable being herself there. “Living in Scarborough, I’ve been very lucky to be part of communities where me being a woman of color has not had a negative impact on my experience, [and] me being queer has not been that much of an issue because of the community that I operate in,” she explains. “I feel much more safe and much more comfortable here than I ever did when I was downtown.”
“People care about you. People are willing to invest in you. People are willing to actively go out of their way and hear what you have to say, and just treat you as a person. The people of Scarborough are incredibly warm, and just incredibly talented and incredibly woke.”
Marcie Ponti is the executive director of Working Women Community Centre, an organization that provides programs and services to immigrant women who are adjusting to life in Toronto’s rapidly changing west end. It offers language and cooking classes, support with finding housing and work, academic assistance for the women’s children, and more.
Located in the city’s Bloorcourt Village for 40 years, Marcie says she’s watched the area change “dramatically.”
“When I first moved here, one of the things I loved about it was the diversity. You can walk down the street and smell food from all over the place. It’s a very welcoming neighborhood, very working-class neighborhood,” she says, adding that Bloor West has always been home to many immigrant-owned shops. A few years ago, there were 41 immigrant-owned businesses on Bloor West that had existed for over 25 years, Marcie explains.
“Some are still there,” she says. But “even in the last three years, we’ve seen some of them totally disappear. So it’s changing. Gentrification is happening. We’ve got a lot of young millennials moving in.”
The people most impacted by local gentrification and development are the immigrant women accessing services at Working Women Community Centre, according to Marcie. “We’re not getting the support that we need to support all those families that are going to be impacted with all those changes,” she says. “Every day, it’s getting harder and harder for us to provide services for them.”
Cheryl Costello loves Brampton’s ethnic diversity. She feels the city is going through an “identity shift,” as people become more aware of the diversity that exists there. “It’s been identified as the Flower City for ages, but as more people come here, live here and experience what Brampton has to offer, they’re starting to see that there’s 179 different cultures and languages here.”
“I dislike the word multicultural,” she adds. “But it’s so varied and [Brampton] hasn’t had to try or talk about itself like that — it just happened.”
Despite Brampton’s celebration of diversity, however, Cheryl feels it still has a long way to go in its inclusion of members of the LGBTQ2S community. As a queer person who uses both she and they pronouns, Cheryl says the “lack of understanding” around these issues makes her life harder.
“I’ve had people just scream horrible things at me when they’ve seen me holding a partner’s hand. I’ve also had somebody throw garbage at me from a moving car because I was holding someone’s hand, presumably, but it’s just those things. I think [there’s] a lack of understanding around issues of equity, of inclusion,” she explains. “Certain communities live in pockets away from each other because they don’t understand these things.”
“Bridging that gap and bringing things together would make those challenges not disappear, but decrease to a level that would allow more dialogue to emerge.”
Help us report on the GTA
Whether you live in one of the four communities The Discourse is covering, or elsewhere in the GTA, we’d love to hear from you. Please fill out this survey or reach us at [email protected] to share your thoughts on what local stories we should cover. And if you want to stay posted on #GTADiscourse’s latest developments, sign up for our newsletter. Then head over to The Discourse’s Gender channel and tell us: How does your gender or identity impact your experience of the GTA? [end]