Voices Lifting the Community with Celeste Turner, LGBTQ2+ Support Coordinator
For this special series, Voices Lifting the Community, HIROC is partnering with the Alliance for Healthier Communities to highlight the work of several of the presenters at their online primary healthcare conference in June.
Today we’re talking with Celeste Turner, the LGBTQ2+ Support Coordinator at the Niagara Falls Community Health Centre and a member of the Alliance's Rainbow Communities Advisory Group. They use the pronouns ‘they/them’. At the Alliance Conference, they will be presenting the session, “Making the Invisible visible: How can we get support if no one thinks we are there.”
Celeste’s early dreams were to work with animals but they found their calling in the field of fitness and health promotion. They remember feeling lost for so many years as a young person and feels privileged to now be in a position of advocating for others in the LGBTQ2+ community.
When it comes to giving trans folks access, inclusion and visibility, Celeste says the building is on fire. Their personal mission is to get their voices at the table and make sure their stories are told.
Mentioned in this Episode
Narrator (Intro): Imagine you could step inside the minds of Canada's healthcare leaders, glimpse their greatest fears, strongest drivers, and what makes them tick. Welcome to Healthcare Change Makers, a podcast where we talk to leaders about the joys and challenges of driving change and working with partners to create the safest healthcare system.
Ellen Gardner: Welcome to voices lifting the community, a special series from HIROC. I'm Ellen Gardner with Philip De Souza. We're delighted to partner with the Alliance for Healthier Communities and highlight the work of several of their presenters in advance of their online primary healthcare conference in June. Today, we're talking with Celeste Turner, the LGBTQ2+ support coordinator at the Niagara Falls Community Health Centre and a member of the Alliances Rainbow communities advisory group. At the Alliance conference, they will be presenting the session “Making the invisible visible. How can we get support if no one thinks we are there?”
Celeste’s early dreams were to work with animals, but they found their calling in the field of fitness and health promotion. They remember feeling lost for so many years as a young person, and feels privileged to now be in a position of advocating for others in the LGBTQ2+ community. When it comes to giving trans folks access, inclusion and visibility, Celeste says the building is on fire. Their personal mission is to get their voices at the table and make sure their stories are told.
Ellen Gardner: Nice to meet you Celeste and welcome to Voices Lifting the Community.
Celeste Turner: Yeah. Thanks so much, Ellen. You too.
Ellen Gardner: First of all, maybe you can tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved with the Niagara Falls Community Health Centre.
Celeste Turner: It's like you said, my name is Celeste. I use they/them pronouns. I've been with the Niagara Falls Community Health Centre for about four years now. I went to college for fitness and health promotion and was always very, very interested in the health promotion side of that and did a placement with the Niagara Falls Community Health Centre, and essentially they can't get rid of me. So I've been here in different roles and things.
For a long chunk of time, I was in a youth outreach position. And through that, we started discovering a need for more services for LGBTQ2+ folks, especially youth. So that role that I was in was a grant. It was a three-year grant. And when that ended, I'm very fortunate that my supervisors here at the health center saw that as something that needed to stay, something that we couldn't lose with the grant. And so they've created this role as the LGBTQ2+ Support Coordinator and have maintained that work.
Ellen Gardner: Is that something that you imagined yourself doing? That you wanted to do?
Celeste Turner: It's interesting. I certainly believe in the power of manifesting. And if you would've asked me as a kid, I would have said, I wanted to be a veterinarian because I loved animals. But when I was in college, before I went for fitness and health promotion, I was in the paramedic program because I just knew I wanted to help people. I wanted to feel like I was being of service and assisting others. And through the paramedic program, I realized that I couldn't stand feeling like I was too late, no matter what. Obviously, paramedics have great response times, but feeling like, "Oh my goodness, if someone had helped you sooner to whatever the case, be, quit smoking, lose weight or something."
Some intervention to help folks be healthier. I wanted to be there. I wanted to be doing that. And so that's what led me to health promotion. And like I was saying with the power of manifesting, I was just in college saying, "I don't know, I just want to help people be healthier." And I'm really passionate about LGBTQ2+ work and being part of that community and being in a role of advocacy. So I think all of those things just fit really well together and be where I am.
Ellen Gardner: I think for anybody on the frontlines of calls for justice and equality, there must be a certain frustration in just the large task ahead, how much there is to do. So do you sometimes say, "You know what? I'm going to focus on the local situation. I'm going to focus on Niagara Falls. What I can do here."
Celeste Turner: I have conversations with people all the time about how frustrating systems are. Certain systems navigating healthcare or whatever the cases that we're talking about. And I'm often saying how I just feel like the building is on fire and I'm on the ground putting out fires on the ground. I'm just dealing with the kind of smaller, more local things, but that this is a huge systemic issue that absolutely we need to come together on and be able to work together to solve that. But to answer your question, yeah, absolutely. I feel like I do a lot of work locally. I would like to do work beyond that, but I feel like I have so much work locally, but I don't necessarily get to extend beyond that.
Ellen Gardner: When you say fires on the ground, can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Celeste Turner: I mean, in that example, I was just thinking of a conversation I had with someone recently about how frustrating it can be for trans folks to be able to access trans-affirming healthcare and there aren't enough doctors or nurse practitioners who provide that care. And it's a systemic issue of, "Well, why isn't it being taught in school and why is it that they have to go out on their own and learn that?" And then even for the folks who do go out of their way and learn that and offer those services, then they aren't protected as well as other, for example, medications or things that they're able to prescribe. Doctors or physicians and nurse practitioners aren't as well-protected in those things. So those are huge systemic things where that needs major change.
But for me, on the ground, I'm like, "Okay. Well, this doctor is accepting or this one has a waitlist." Or here you can use this and solving that on an individual basis is what I mean by fires on the ground.
Ellen Gardner: The focus of your session at the Alliance Conference is the invisibility of the LGBTQ2+ community. What are some of the ways that you feel the community is overlooked or not counted?
Celeste Turner: I think you just said it, not counted, right? I would further that to say not included, not included in terms of decision-making, not included in policy, creating policy, in many different sectors, but just essentially are not at the table. If we want to look at healthcare again, who makes those decisions about trans healthcare from a very high up level? It's probably not trans folks. I don't know for sure to say that for certain, but probably not. And we need to get those voices at the table. How do we get them there? How do we make sure that those stories are being heard?
Ellen Gardner: Trans folks as you say, they may not be at the table, but how much do you put on your own community to say, "We need to be at the table. So we're going to have to make those changes ourselves. That we have to open the eyes of everybody around us." How big a task is it to just empower your own community, to make those things happen?
Celeste Turner: There are some really, really amazing advocates and people doing really important work. And I think for others, they’ve been bogged down by the system, experiencing different avenues or kinds of harassment or discrimination, or just coming up against barrier after barrier. That's exhausting too. And I can't expect folks to experience all of that and then have the energy to continue fighting and have the energy to advocate beyond that. So it's challenging. I know that for myself, I say all the time, if I do my job right, no one will replace me when I retire, which is extremely optimistic, I'm aware. Right?
Celeste Turner: But I'm in this position where I'm being paid, this is what pays my bills is to do this work here with the health centre. And that also gives me the privilege and opportunity to be able to volunteer in other advocacy work as well. I just know that's rare and I need to use that to the absolute, best of my own ability, but that's not the case for most folks. And it's certainly important. I think we all have pieces of responsibility, but I'm also very aware that that looks different for absolutely everybody.
Ellen Gardner: Celeste, what's one thing that people should know and that would help them be more aware and understand the humanity of the LGBTQ2+ community?
Celeste Turner: Sure. I think one thing, and it's so interesting. I'm still surprised every time somebody frames the question this way, I often get asked, why do people choose that? And I'm like, "Oh my goodness. Did you choose your gender? Hang on, wait a minute. Did you choose your sexuality?" And so just understanding that it's absolutely not a choice. Nobody's sexuality, gender identity, or any of those things is a choice. It's a really strong internal sense of being, sense of knowing and sense of self.
Celeste Turner: If I go to give a presentation or I'm talking to whatever the case, if it's an organization, or if it's a family, that's the first thing I preface, "Hey, I'm Celeste. I use, they/them pronouns." Whatever little intro. And then number one, this is not a choice. This is never a choice. This is not a choice for anyone as far as whatever their identity is. And I just want everyone to have the right to be themselves and it's not harmful to others to be LGBTQ2+. That doesn't hurt other people. That’s just for individuals to be empowered, to be able to be seen and acknowledged the way that they need to be seen and acknowledged.
Ellen Gardner: Is there a person or a time in your life Celeste or an event that really inspired you and gave you the inspiration to follow this path that you knew, this is what I need to be doing? Where do you find that inspiration?
Celeste Turner: I think a lot about how I felt growing up. I have an amazing family who is nothing but loving and supportive, but even then, being raised Catholic, it was taught from a young age that homosexuality is wrong and those people go to hell and et cetera. I just remember feeling so lost for so long, especially as a teen, I would say maybe from grade seven until I came out when I was 19, just feeling so hopeless. And I just tried to convince myself for so long that I was just going to be single and I'm going to work at PetSmart and that's fine. I'm going to have cats. And there's nothing wrong with that for other folks. That's their life. They're happy that way, but I was lying to myself and I had hid who I was for so, so long. And it's exhausting.
Celeste Turner: If I wasn't on that upswing of convincing myself, everything's going to be fine, then I was on the downswing where I thought, "Well, I just wish I was never born and that I just didn't want to get out of bed. I didn't want to function." And was now in hindsight I was severely depressed.
So for me, I'm constantly thinking that I just want to be for other people who I so desperately needed and didn't know that I needed or who I wish I could have had access to as a teen. And that's really when I think about if there's times that I'm tired or that this work feels never-ending, it's just thinking about that could have made such an impact. That's just my own personal experience. So just knowing that's what keeps me going, is feeling like I can make an impact for others.
And I remember those small glimpses of hope while I was in that state, small glimpses of, "Oh my goodness. There's two women holding hands at the grocery store right now." And just being so excited in my head about those little tiny glimmers of hope or glimmers of, "This is possible. People actually live this way. People are actually happy about this." That’s why I think it's so important. And that's what keeps me going and keeps inspiring me is that no matter what it is, if I run a program and nobody comes even the flyer I put out, know I gave hope to somebody.
Ellen Gardner: What's something that you're hoping people will take away from your session at the conference, Celeste?
Celeste Turner: I think just similar to what I said earlier, understanding that we've come a long way, but we have a very long way to go and it's possible and let's do this and here we are. Let's call it today, Day One. And what changes can we already start making?
I often say anytime I'm providing any education to folks is that if you're a cis-gender and or heterosexual person, who's maybe never had to think about these other things that other folks experience that doesn't make you a bad person. You didn't have to think about those things, but if you're in a position of power, if you're in a position where you work with other people in any capacity, now's the time. Better late than never, you need to be learning these things, you need to know about these things. And so I think often fear can be paralyzing – that people don't know what to do, or they don't want to say the wrong thing and just empowering folks that we all have work to do. Let’s start right now and what does that look like.
Philip De Souza: Thank you for sharing your story. I really appreciate it. And I know you spoke to really supporting the community you work in right now, but if you had the ability to change something nationally or globally to make sure that people felt included, they felt like a visible part of the community. What's one thing that comes to mind or you think you'd do with your magic power to ensure that people felt included?
Celeste Turner: That's a lot of power. Wow. A couple of things come to mind, but I think it all maybe could be boiled down to education. That everyone is educated about LGBTQ2+ history and issues, and what's needed for support at every level, right? Even in school curriculums right up to healthcare and professional colleges and things, that, that was magically in everyone's curriculum at every level possible.
Philip De Souza: It's so true. Knowledge is power. And you hit it right there with I think education. So I hope people, those in power and all those out there listening to those wise words. That we start, like how Celeste said, "We make today, Day One and start that journey of learning.” That's something we at HIROC really pride ourselves on this knowledge-sharing from the community.
Ellen Gardner: The last year has been challenging for everyone. And COVID has just for a lot of us it's closed as in more. We've had to kind of just embed ourselves so much. Do you think that's had a really negative effect on your community or has there been maybe a positive and something that's gone well or that just maybe more of an awareness has happened? Can you tell us your thoughts on that?
Celeste Turner: Sure, definitely both. I would say, there's no denying that we've taken a community that can already be very isolated and further isolated them, right? With the pandemic and lockdowns and things. Not that I don't think they should have happened. I'm absolutely not an epidemiologist or have any say in those matters, but I certainly think there's another layer of isolation. The first thing that always comes to mind for me is healthcare, and barriers to accessing other services, groups, programs, supports. Even when they do exist, I think things with the pandemic, folks for example, mental health is worse. Those systems are oversubscribed and maybe just can't handle the load.
Celeste Turner: We talk a lot about, of course, the load of ICUs, but I wonder about the load of mental health services and where are those going with the pandemic as well? So there's certainly a negative effect, but also certainly a positive. I think that if technology is not a barrier for folks, this is opened up a new world of telemedicine. And maybe now that's more accessible for someone, and, or to be able to access a group online where before you couldn't get there, because you don't drive the transit system, you can't access transit. But now if you have a computer and a Wi-Fi signal, then you can join or a data plan. So I certainly think it's been both. I think there's been negative effects, but I also think positive as well. And I don't think virtual groups, services, even having that option, that virtual option, I don't think it'll ever go away because it's certainly proven to be very beneficial.
Ellen Gardner: Thank you so much, Celeste. It's just been a real pleasure talking to you and just learning about your community. And we really wish you so much luck and success in the work that you've got ahead of you.
Celeste Turner: Sure. Yeah. Thanks so much for having me.
Ellen Gardner: You have just been listening to voices lifting the community, a special series produced by HIROC and the Alliance for Healthier Communities. Today, our guest was Celeste Turner, the LGBTQ2+ support coordinator at the Niagara Falls Community Health Centre. Stay tuned for more episodes of Voices Lifting the Community.
Thank you for listening. You can hear more episodes of Healthcare Change Makers on our website HIROC.com and on your favourite podcasting apps. If you like what you hear, please rate us or post a review. Healthcare Change Makers is recorded by HIROC's Communications and Marketing team and produced by Podfly Productions. Follow us on Twitter at @hirocgroup or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear from you.