Matthew Vieira, 39, was given the name Margaret when he was born, but he’s been out as transgender and male since he was nine years old.
About a year ago, Vieira was homeless. Now he has an apartment in Delta, but he’s on disability assistance and has been relying on support from the food bank for the past three months.
Vieira has run into barriers when trying to get help at some food banks. For one, his driver’s licence has his old, or “dead” name, which can cause confusion for some — he doesn’t have the funds to get a legal name change. Then there are the moral hang-ups some people still have about transgender people.
“I’ve been refused at some food banks. A couple of the food banks I’ve gone to have been very Christian or Catholic-orientated, and they don’t deal with trans very well, so I’ve been refused,” he said. “It’s very hard when you need help and to get refused.”
Those worries disappear when Vieira makes the trip twice a month to East Vancouver’s Saige Community Food Bank.
“Everybody’s welcome,” he said.
Anyone setting foot in the Kiwassa Neighbourhood house on the second and fourth Friday of each month will instantly know there’s something different about the food bank. It’s immediately clear that it’s a safe space for people in the LGBT community.
Different colourful flags representing bisexual, transgender, non-binary and two-spirited communities adorn the room, along with the traditional LGBT rainbow flag.
Most of the volunteers wear name tags that include their preferred pronoun, including he/him, she/her, or them/their.
“It’s pretty cool. We’re very unique that way — we’re like a family,” said Tanya Kuhn, co-founder and director of the food bank.
According to Kuhn, between 150 and 200 people will visit the food bank each month, along with others who get prepared bags of fresh produce and food. She said that about half the guests are members of the LGBTQ community.
“They love coming here. They love coming to socialize,” said Kuhn. “They love coming to see us and to say hello.”
Jess Chan, who identifies as non-binary (preferring the pronouns them/their), has been volunteering at Saige for a few years.
Chan considers themselves privileged, having the resources to get a legal name change and corresponding documents. And despite struggling to hold a job for about a year, Chan hasn’t experienced challenges with access to food or housing.
“I realized there’s a lot of people out there who don’t quite have the same level privilege that I have,” said Chan.
“I do have trans friends who have experienced homelessness in the past, or extreme poverty,” they said. “I know oftentimes it was because they were kicked out of their parents’ houses because their parents couldn’t accept them, and that’s very hard.”
According to Kuhn, the food bank started because she believes it’s important to provide people with healthy food in a dignified way, but elsewhere, that’s not what Vieira has encountered.
“There should be no boundaries anywhere. It’s not the 1800s anymore,” he said. “We’re all human. We all bleed the same blood, we all breathe the same air. No one is different.”
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