When Samantha Matty was coming out in Detroit she benefited from a discussion group made up of members of the city’s LGBT community who were going through the same things she was.
So when Matty came to London two years ago, she was surprised the Forest City didn’t have a similar type of support available.
For that matter, she was “shocked” London didn’t have a gay community centre championing such an initiative.
Supported by the nurturing atmosphere at Family Service Thames Valley (FSTV) where she is working as a therapist in the clinical internship program, Matty pitched the idea to her colleagues. That pitch was enthusiastically received and just last week led to the launching of Coming Out Over Coffee.
“If you are questioning your sexuality or your gender identity and you want to go into a formal program, there aren’t many social service agencies that really have anything for people within the queer community,” Matty said. “We just decided it was really important we do something formal for the community.”
Coming Out Over Coffee is a drop-in pilot program that will operate the second and fourth Tuesday of every month, running from 6:30-8 p.m. at the FSTV offices (125 Woodward Ave.).
The program is open to individuals over the age of 19 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, two-spirited or questioning who are just starting their journey towards coming out.
Matty said she envisioned the program as a place where people can get together and find support for their coming out issues, or any other issues they have in their lives specifically regarding their identity.
“I know in my own coming out process, to be able to go somewhere, hear there were other people struggling just as I was struggling, that there were people further along in the coming process than were doing OK, it gave me hope,” Matty said. “If someone wants to come and be silent, that’s OK too. People don’t have to share if they don’t want to.”
Louise Pitre, FSTV executive director, said the Coming Out Over Coffee proposal “was not a difficult sell,” because it fits well with the organization’s mission.
FSTV exists, Pitre said, to serve people who are “often at the margins,” who are vulnerable and who experience more barriers than others.
Having a pilot program that provides access to counselling and support services for the LGBT community, not only aligns with the FSTV mission, but fills a gap in service Pitre realized exists in London.
“I thought we did have services in our community, and we do, but there is a gap in service for adults who are exploring their sexuality, their gender identity,” Pitre said. “It just makes a whole lot of sense for Family Service Thames Valley to be the place where we pilot that.”
People can just drop in to Coming Out For Coffee; there is no formal registration process. Pitre describes it as “a safe space” for people to have whatever conversation they need to have or just to listen.
The goal is to offer a place where people “no longer feel isolated,” Pitre said, and can receive support from others on the same journey.
The rules around Coming Out Over Coffee are simple, but also flexible.
Confidentiality, diversity and safety are guaranteed, but Matty said the group essentially makes the rules around the discussion at each session.
“There are certain issues within groups, even within the queer community, just giving ourselves sometimes permission to make mistakes. If we mis-identify somebody, can that be OK?” Matty said. “Whatever happens here stays here. I think (we set the rules) every time we meet, depending on who comes out.”
Matty will remain with FSTV until July, but Pitre said conversations are already taking place around how the program can be sustained long-term.
For more information, contact Samantha Matty by phone at 519-433-0183 ext 8707.