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Certification demonstrates inclusion

Rainbow Collective of Thunder Bay launches gender and sexual diversity certification for local businesses, other groups.

THUNDER BAY – A new certification process aims to arm local businesses with the knowledge to create more welcoming and inclusive spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The Rainbow Collective of Thunder Bay officially launched its Gender and Sexual Diversity (GSD) certification Thursday at the Sleeping Giant Brewing Co., which became one of the first organizations to become certified earlier this week.

To earn the certification, at least 75 per cent of an organization’s staff, organizers, or board members must take a two-hour GSD and inclusion workshop. Certifications last for three years before renewal.

The certification sets a standard for businesses to live up to, according to vice-president of inclusion Jessy Bogacki.

“It’s something we’re launching in order to verify that businesses have a certain level of education and background respect about the community,” they said Thursday.

The training explores issues of identity within the LGBTQ+ community, the use of gender-neutral language and pronouns, and more.

“We want to make sure when they’re addressing the customer, they’re not making any assumptions based on their appearance or anything else,” Bogacki said.

The collective, which launched earlier this year, also plans to follow up with businesses if it receives feedback from the community about negative experiences.

“You’re signing on to a code of practice that you’ll live by the workshop… and that you’ll do good by our community,” said president Jason Veltri. “They want a safe, welcoming, positive environment where they’re not mis-gendered, where they’re not misunderstood.”

In extreme cases, certification could be revoked if businesses don’t live up to the commitment, he said.

Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. general manager Kevin Brewer is a big believer in the training, saying the positive impacts stretched beyond the workplace.

“It’s not just for [staff], it’s for our families, our friends, our customers,” he said. “It’s to help better the community.”

“I feel a little bit better having taken this education, just understanding things I do that I could stop doing to help be more inclusive – just the way I write an email, [for example]. It definitely helps.”

The brewery joined the Thunder Bay Museum and Communities Together for Children – EarlyON as the third local organization to officially become certified, after participating in a remote workshop on Wednesday.

Staff found the workshop engaging, with concrete examples of everyday behaviours they could change to be more inclusive, said SGBC marketing manager Kali Colledanchise.

“They said, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize how many assumptions, or things I was saying that I didn’t realize might have a long-lasting effect on someone,’” she reported.

“They recognize we’re going to make mistakes – it’s in our human nature. But I think recognizing they can do better and they’re willing to do better… the workshop opened our eyes to that.”

The brewery also announced it would offer a second batch of its “Love = Love” limited-edition beer, due to overwhelming demand.

Proceeds from the raspberry sour will support the Rainbow Collective’s micro-grants initiative, which will offer small grants for items like gender-affirming supplies, community support groups and art projects, and basic needs for community members struggling to make ends meet.

Details on how to apply for those grants will be announced in the near future, the collective said.

For Veltri, the certification initiative is a way to go deeper on inclusivity commitments often touted during pride month.

“There’s kind of rainbow-washing that happens in June,” he said. “We want to actually back [that up] with tangible education.

“So why are you raising that flag? You’re raising it because we don’t want to mis-gender people, we want to be inclusive, we want to understand the differences and the uniqueness of our communities.”

Colledanchise agreed, saying members of the LGBTQ+ community go through hardships due to a lack of education in the broader community.

“I felt it was really important for us to understand what we’re representing when we say love equals love and putting that on the beer,” she said.

Interested organizations can learn more at the Rainbow Collective’s website.

The group hopes to reach workplaces beyond the city itself and across Northwestern Ontario, noted Veltri.