RIRI cultural navigator receives Inspiration Award
REACH Edmonton congratulates Corey Wyness, a cultural navigator with the REACH Immigrant and Refugee Initiative (RIRI), on receiving an Inspiration Award from the Government of Alberta. The award honours Albertans for their work in the areas of the prevention of family violence, sexual assault, child abuse and bullying.
Corey Wyness has been working in the community for more than twenty years by supporting vulnerable LGBTQ youth in a variety of ways. His work with REACH Edmonton is in addition to involvement with Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (iSMSS) and Below The Belt: Men's Project, a program which supports LGBTQ youth who have been abandoned by family as a result of the gender identity or sexual orientation.
Corey facilitates conversations between LGBTQ youth and their families to find ways in which they can maintain healthy relationships and acceptance. He is passionate about ending family violence and keeping kids off the street by providing care and support to those who need it.
Through his role as a cultural navigator with RIRI, Corey has supported immigrant and refugee LGBTQ youth. He has discovered what information is needed, and how to provide it, which has helped him develop training presentations for Muslim clergy, community leaders and social-serving agencies.
The other cultural navigators admit the topic of LGBTQ is one of the most sensitive and difficult in almost all communities. They stress the message that LGBTQ rights are protected by law in Canada.
He estimates that about half the homeless youth in Edmonton are LGBTQ teens who were either kicked out of their homes or forced to leave because of name-calling or violence. He tries to intervene for the sake of the youth’s safety.
“If they get on the street, there’s crime, there’s violence. They get into the sex trade,” says Wyness.
His goal is to work with families to try to accept their children’s sexuality, even though their religion and culture may consider it taboo. He is proud to have kept an Ethiopian family together after a series of conversations that started with dinner at the family’s home.
“I made them ask me questions. I said ‘Ask me. What are you afraid of?’ They asked ‘Is he sick? Will he go to jail?’ On the second visit, more questions. We just let the youth talk,” he recalls.
Wyness credits the cultural navigators with helping him keep that family together.
“The RIRI project is so networked and connected. They have a resource in me just as I do in them,” he says. “That part for me would not have happened if I had not had that support. We’re keeping families together.”
The training he provides is designed to prevent stigma and discrimination against LGBTQ members of immigrant and refugee communities, especially young people. He knows his presentations are successful by the immediate feedback he receives from people who work with agencies serving those communities. They often tell him they don’t know how to respond to LGBTQ clients and are relieved to know they can rely on him as a resource.
The REACH Immigrant and Refugee Initiative (RIRI) includes 13 cultural navigators working to prevent family violence in various immigrant communities in Edmonton.