In the age of Covid-19, social connection is virtual. The Rainbow Coalition of Yellowknife has taken programming online to provide LGBTQ2S+ youth a safe space in difficult times.
The coalition, operating in Yellowknife since 2011, helps youth, families, and allies across the territory. It normally runs close to 30 free programs per month, from paint nights and sports games to support groups.
With the group’s physical space closed by the pandemic, weekly movie nights have been replaced by Netflix parties. Mental health counselling comes in a monthly Instagram live session. Online chat rooms, monitored by staff, offer a sense of camaraderie.
The new online programs strive for to remind youth they aren’t alone.
“I think [it’s] really important to let people know we’re still here,” said Alexis Ruettnauer, a coalition member and counsellor in Yellowknife. “If you need us, we’re here.”
Chelsea Thacker, the coalition’s executive director, said programming has been received well since starting up online at the beginning of April.
The move has even allowed the organization to reach more LGBTQ2S+ youth and families across the territory, with online participants from Hay River, Inuvik, Fort Smith, and other communities.
The Netflix parties have been a particular hit. A web extension by the same name allows people to watch a show together while chatting.
‘Storytelling brings us together’
Netflix and other streaming platforms have become a source of social connection during the Covid-19 pandemic. Deprived of much else to share, people are congregating around the experience of simultaneous viewing in separate homes.
Storytelling has always been a means for different cultures to gather and discuss important topics, said Ruettnauer. Bonding over shows and movies on Netflix, in that light, isn’t so surprising.
“I think it’s a really cool platform to connect, as a culture, because storytelling really brings us together. We can all identify in some ways with a lot of stories,” she said.
The coalition tries to find movies and shows that reflect its LGBTQ2S+ community. Examples are Schitt’s Creek and The Half of It, both of which feature queer characters and love stories.
“I think seeing representation of experiences that are similar to theirs can be very validating,” Ruettnauer said of the youth who take part.
Not everywhere may be as accepting or inclusive, Thacker suggested.
“Maybe it’s not safe at home, or maybe their school life sucks, or maybe they need help coming out to their friends.
“I think it’s really important to offer connections – or the opportunity to connect together as a community – even if it’s virtual, because, you know, everyone needs that in their lives.
“They need to be able to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.”