While 13 per cent of police-reported hate crimes in 2012 were motivated by hatred of sexual orientation, those incidents were the most violent, according to Statistics Canada. This much – and more, including higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidality – is known about the so-called rainbow community. But how do we know what we don’t know?

This May, the Rainbow Community Council, a working group comprised of representatives from Region of Waterloo Public Health & Emergency Services, ACCKWA, the Waterloo Region Rainbow Coalition, Wilfrid Laurier University and various other organizations and members of the community, launched a comprehensive needs assessment of the LGBTQ2S communities in Waterloo Region.

The Outlook Study asks questions about harassment, discrimination, intimate partner violence, community supports and senses of belonging. The study also investigates the sexual health behaviours and needs of gay, bisexual, trans and other men who have sex with men.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are very complex,” says Jeremy Steffler, co-chair of the RCC. He hopes the Outlook Study will include all members of the rainbow community, not only those who are “out and proud.”

Steffler describes the project as the product of a lot of “behind the scenes relationship building to bring allies into the fold.” As a result, Steffler hopes the community based project will be far more comprehensive, and connect with a greater swath of the rainbow community.

“The most marginalized are the least likely to reach out and ask for help… this is why a needs assessment is so important, to get information about the whole community,” Steffler says.

“At minimum, the Outlook Study shows what can happen when organizations pool resources… and at very least, establishes a baseline of data so that we can examine services as they currently exist.”

Though the RCC is still in its early days, created in 2015, members have initiated two other working groups. The Breaking the Silence working group formed after a community event, which generated an eponymous report that describes how “members of the LGBTQ community are at a heightened degree of vulnerability and live in an environment where being oneself and ‘out’ means they are a target and subject to marginalization, oppression, discrimination and violence.”

RCC members have also created the Solidarity Alliance working group, which aims to develop local supports and allies for LGBTQ+ newcomers – whether or not they were pushed from their home countries for reasons relating to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Steffler says his and the RCC’s work “aims to help ensure all members of the rainbow community have equitable access to competent and appropriate programming and services throughout the region.”

Understanding those folks’ needs is the first step, and interested parties can participate at outlookstudy.ca.