Proposed community centre dividing members of Toronto LGBTQ community

Click to play video: 'Members of LGBTQ community oppose to Moss Park community centre some call a ‘gay gym’'
Members of LGBTQ community oppose to Moss Park community centre some call a ‘gay gym’
WATCH ABOVE: Members of LGBTQ community opposed to Moss Park community centre – May 13, 2016

The proposal to build a brand new 150,000 square foot community centre at Moss Park – replacing the now aging John Innes Community Recreation Centre – is driving a wedge between members of the city’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

If approved, The 519 — a community agency committed to “the health, happiness and full participation of the LGBTQ community,” according to their website — would run the new facility.

“We really wanted to make sure we were creating opportunities for marginalized communities,” said Executive Director Maura Lawless.

But members and advocates of the transgender community are concerned the new centre, and redevelopment of the arena and surrounding fields, would further gentrify the area and push the poor and marginalized out.

“You have a bunch of agencies like the Regent Park Community Health Centre that provide people with a one-stop shop of resources,” said Syrus Marcus Ware, a trans community activist and artist.

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“If gentrification happens and pushes people to another location, or worse scatters them, it will just be that much harder for them to access the things they need.”

Ware says many trans-identified individuals are among the poor and marginalized, and he fears this new development will further push them to the periphery.

“We’ve seen the ways trans people, disabled people, racialized people who are LGBTQ – who are part of our community – aren’t always made welcome in all of the spaces.”

Helen Jefferson Lenskyj with the Trans Queer Community Defence agrees and says the interests of the marginalized will be overshadowed by members of the gay community who continue to enjoy most of the influence.

“White, middle class gay men who want to play sports on those fields. It’s the top down decisions, and that can be very patronizing and alienating for people who are further down so to speak.”

Jefferson also fears there will be an aggressive move to clean the area up and push the poor, drug users and sex trade workers farther from the services they rely on.

But Lawless says The 519 is engaging in extensive consultation with marginalized communities, which includes going into homeless shelters and TCH building to elicit feedback that will inform their vision for the project. Currently they’re undertaking a feasibility study for the proposed site.

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“We (also) have a number of people on our staff who are trans identified and it’s incredibly important that their voices are heard in the shaping of this project, as well as racialized communities,” she said.

The 519 announced four community round tables Monday morning that will take place between now and September. The first will be held on May 31 at the John Innes Community Recreation Centre.

Local city councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, backs the proposal for redevelopment and says community assets are being added to the neighbourhood, not taken away from it.

“This is a city of Toronto asset and we’re hoping to make it one of the most modern and inclusive centres that we have.”

Wong-Tam points out that much of the programming – meant for all members of the community – won’t just cater to the well-off and those who’re interested in sports.

“I’ve talked about the community kitchen, I’ve talked about the woodworking space. It’s about building community resiliency,” she said.

Notification of canceled recreation session at John Innes Community Centre
Notification of canceled recreation session at John Innes Community Centre. Kristyn Wong-Tam / Toronto City Councillor

The councilor says the area in and around Moss Park is in desperate need of  community meeting space. Just last month a basketball sessions was canceled –  forced out of the gymnasium at John Innes because a meeting was scheduled.

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“When we hold community meetings now, we’re forced into the basements of churches which are not always wheelchair accessible,” said Wong-Tam.

But many remain unconvinced their voices will be heard during the extensive rounds of consultation planned for Moss Park.

“I understand the desire to have a community centre that promotes health and vitality but just need to ensure that it’s going to ensure health and vitality for all the people in the area,” said Ware.

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