Celebrating Pride Day with MCIS Training: Interpreting for LGBTQIA Newcomers

By: Cheryl

By: Cheryl Lu, Social Media Coordinator

June 28 is the International LGBT+ Pride Day. During the entire month, events are held, and conferences are hosted; people in Canada celebrate the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity with parties and festivals.

This freedom of celebrating Pride Day, however, is not universal. In today’s diverse and inclusive world, there are still people leaving their home countries in avoidance of discrimination, injustice, or even persecution due to their sexual and gender orientation. Many of them sought shelter and support in Canada.

One area where this inclusivity is essential is in the provision of interpreting services for LGBTQIA newcomers. Interpreting plays a vital role in facilitating effective communication and creating a welcoming environment for LGBTQIA individuals. To these people, overcoming language barriers is problematic on a new level. How do people from different cultures make sure they’re on the same page when it comes to gender, sex and relationships, especially if the definitions and gendered grammar in their languages are different in the first place? This is where professional language services should weigh in. At MCIS, we provide resources for language professionals to upgrade their knowledge to serve various communities, and our Interpreting for LGBTQIA Newcomers training program, currently free to all applicants, is one of them.

To help applicants learn more about this program, we sat down with our Training team for a short Q&A:

Q: What was the incident/event/news that inspired the establishment of the Interpreting for LGBTQIA Newcomers training program?

A: Over the recent years, there has been an increasing number of refugee claimants who applied for asylum in Canada on the basis of discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Interpreters are usually one of the first points of contact for these claimants, and it has become evident that, at times, interpreters are not familiar with the process of handling such requests, not that they know how to behave during interpreting encounters with LGBTQIA clients to ensure their feelings are not hurt, and rights are observed. That is why MCIS has developed this training program, with support and guidance from the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI). 

Q: How many years has MCIS been offering this training program?

A: Almost 5 years.

Q: How many trainees have successfully graduated from this program?

A: 166 graduates. We have been witnessing a steady growth of enrolments through the year as more and more people are becoming aware of the topic and as the world grows to evolve as one. 

Q: How is interpreting for LGBTQIA newcomers different from other types of interpretation?

A: One of the main differences in interpreting for LGBTQIA newcomers compared with other clients lies in using proper LGBTQIA terminology. Language is constantly evolving, and interpreters must be on top of the new terms that grow around new topics and fields of social life.

Q: What kind of things do interpreters must bear in mind when working with LGBTQIA newcomers?

A: While working with LGBTQIA newcomers, interpreters should be respectful, as with any other clients, and use proper terminology. They should be aware of how to transmit sensitive information in a respectful manner considering the trauma and challenges LGBTQIA clients may have experienced before coming to Canada. Interpreters should also maintain impartiality and not let their personal values and attitudes impact their behaviour and interpretation.

Q: How can professional interpreters benefit from this program in terms of advancing their careers and expertise?

A: The program is an excellent continued competence course both for interpreters who have already been working in the field as well as those who have just embarked on their interpreting career. They will learn what are appropriate and inappropriate terminology to use with LGBTQIA clients, review the ethical principles of interpreters and learn how to apply them to cope with challenging situations that may arise.

Q: How do you ensure trainees graduate from this program fully equipped with the knowledge, skills and confidence they need?

A: The course contains a bunch of real-life scenarios that guide interpreters on the right course of action. One of the great examples in the program that we share with interpreters is The Story of Lotus Dao:

Lotus Dao remembers asking his mother at a young age, “What if I like girls?”

His mom was cooking on the stove. She stopped, looked at him, and said, “No.”

“I was like, ‘What do you mean, no?’” Dao said.

“She was like, ‘You’re not,’ ‘You don’t,’ and I could tell she was kind of struggling. But I remember back then I was confused, so I was like, ‘I guess you’re right, I guess I can’t,’” like girls, Dao said.

Today, Dao lives in Oakland and is transitioning from female to male.

As Dao started developing feelings for women, he asked his mother if there was a word for “gay” in Vietnamese. She told him the word. Dao used this word to come out as a lesbian to his family during his senior year of high school. But in college, Dao learned that the term was actually derogatory.

“I thought that meant all-encompassing LGBT,” Dao said, “but then this person I met said it actually means ‘faggot.’ I didn’t realize I was telling my Mom, ‘I’m a fag.’ She reacted strongly to that, which makes sense now.”

In college, Dao learned what the word in Vietnamese for lesbian was. He also learned another word that means “same-gender loving.”

Dao’s linguistic dilemma is played out in many families and various service settings. Non-English-speaking LGBTQ people often do not know certain words regarding sex and sexuality in their native language – or their language may not have a specific word – which can affect the way they communicate with the doctor.

It is also a challenge for medical providers (and interpreters) who need to find the most culturally appropriate terms. This summer, Dao told his mother he was in the process of transitioning to male. Once again, he could not find a word in his native language to describe who he is to his family.

Q: Can you give an example of how terminologies can be important in interpreting for LGBTQIA newcomers?

A: The commonly held assumption that everyone is heterosexual creates barriers for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and other diverse sexualities.

Assumptions that everyone’s gender identity matches what they were assigned at birth create barriers for trans* people.

These assumptions occur daily in language, actions, decisions, policies and structures that hurt and exclude LGBTQIA* people and undermine positive spaces. We need to take a look at some of the most common of these hurtful assumptions. We need to be mindful that using inappropriate terminology could traumatize clients and jeopardize the interpreter-client relationship.

Interpreting in LGBTQIA newcomer’s training programs is of utmost importance to foster inclusivity, provide equal access, and bridge communication gaps. Through skilled and culturally sensitive interpreting, LGBTQIA individuals can fully participate in training programs, access vital resources, and contribute to their personal and professional growth. The presence of interpreters ensures that LGBTQIA newcomers feel heard, respected, and empowered on their journey.

To apply for the Interpreting for LGBTQIA Newcomers training program: https://www.mcislanguages.com/programs-training/interpretertraining/continued-competence/

To request interpretation service: https://mcis.wufoo.com/forms/s1tavjt3123vxf2