It’s okay to ask for help when you need it.

Being a community advocate and the pressures of leading in a social media world

It all started 2 years ago, on an evening in October 2019. Having just moved back to Thunder Bay from spending 10 years in Calgary and Toronto, finding my feet after riding the Oil and Gas boom & bust in Fort McMurray.  I decided it was time to step up and give back to my community.  It was time to advocate for broader inclusion and acceptance of the 2SLGBTQIA+ & the Gender and Sexual Diversity (GSD) communities of our city and region.

I have always been someone who tackles things head on with full gusto, even in times where restraint is needed.  My passion and love for my community can often take the wrong approach and my learnings over the past 3 years have shown and taught me a few valuable lessons in coping and managing the pressures of public life, building your community and managing the noise that is Social Media.

Being a public facing spokesperson and community advocate is oftentimes thankless and deeply hard work.  It takes everything you have to move past the noise, move past the trolling, memes, comments and see what you are doing as important and meaningful.  Working to better your community will oftentimes take 1-step forward and two steps back, but after it has all said and done, you see the change your community experienced.

When I was faced with difficult decisions, criticism and out-right hate while we were launching the Rainbow & Transgender Crosswalk project, there was a lot of misinformation, innuendos and much bigotry.  This weighs heavily on you, not only as the Chair and Leader of the organization building it but as someone who has invested countless hours and passion into working to build acceptance and visibility into the Queer & Trans communities of Thunder Bay.  This project took the most out of me; it took the most out of my friends and family.  The stress was evident; the hurt was palpable.  Working so hard for something so meaningful but being broken by the few loudest voices was hard.

I found ways to manage the stress and anxiety, I sought out support from professional counsellors, and I spoke out more about the stress and anxiety I was experiencing.  I sought guidance from other community leaders and those who had done this work before me.  They all came to the same conclusion, what our community organization and I were doing was right and it was desperately needed.  In order to support my board, friends, family & community, I needed to first recognize and accept the pressures of the job, the pressures of leading a controversial project and that the project was meaningful for our 2SLGBTQIA+/GSD communities.

The noise was there, constantly; the hate filled comments online, the emails into the organization calling us pedophiles and other vile names.  I was always reminded of the times being told by many friends, stop reading the comment; delete the emails! As easy as this was to say, it is much harder in practice.  I took the feedback from counsellors, friends and trusted confidants and I found ways to distract from the noise, I reduced reading articles posted to Facebook or Twitter.  I would reduce my use of Social Media, turn my phone off and put it away at night.  I would go find my news from the actual source, direct to the news outlet websites and read the articles posted and avoid the comments all together.

I learned throughout that sticking to facts and messaging helped me overcome the noise. I kept repeating the message, the numbers and the path forward. Kept repeating why this project was so important to our communities’ long-term acceptance and for the visibility of Queer and Transgender folks.  Seeing yourself in your community when you are considered less than or an outcast because of who you authentically are or who you love shouldn’t preclude yourself from living in a community or giving back because of a few noisy and hate filled posts and internet trolls.

I have had to teach myself to stop believing everything you read online and shut out the noise. I had to surround myself with those who support and lift you up rather than demean or ridicule the good work you are doing. I sought the counsel of good friends, trusted family and had to believe in myself, and the work I was doing to build the community we all could be proud to call home.  We owe it to ourselves and to others, to support each other, empower those to do better and bring love and kindness to everything we do.

We know life can and will throw us curveballs, how we overcome these obstacles is how we will grow and change.  Knowing there are people who you can talk to, seek guidance from, friends, and family who will always be there to pick you up when you fall; these are the important life lessons we learn when we put ourselves out there.  I always say to live life without regrets, accept your mistakes as lessons learned and fight for causes you believe in!

It is okay to ask for help when you need it and its okay to not be okay but always believe in yourself even when others do not. Remember, doing something is better than sitting at home trolling internet comments. Actions speak louder than words!

Stay Well, Stay strong, Spread love!

Jason Veltri
Community Advocate

Thunder Bay Counselling welcomes guest bloggers to share their personal voices, experiences and views through our Believe in Change Blog. The views of guest bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Thunder Bay Counselling. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, Thunder Bay Counselling cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. Please note that any opinions or advice provided in the blog is not intended to be a substitute for services provided by our professional staff.