9 min

23 reasons to be PROUD of Ottawa

Capital Xtra presents its annual Hero Awards

*Tom Barnes
Recipient, Lifetime Achievement

A cocktail pianist and occasional cellist by training, Tom turned his musical interests into a career as a sound engineer. Tom burst out of his closet in 1986 and has been involved with a number of local groups in support roles — including the Ottawa Knights, EGALE, SAGE and the Ottawa Gay Men’s Chorus. He was also involved in the founding of PFLAG Ottawa. He joined Pink Triangle Services in 1988 and has been the coordinator of the Kelly McGinnis Library since 2000. He turns 60 this spring.

Guy Bérubé and La Petite Mort Gallery
Nominee, Achievement in the Arts

Guy Bérubé brings 25 years of experience in art and interior design, including success as an international art dealer, freelance interior designer and curator of exhibitions in a range of spaces in Ottawa, San Francisco, Montreal, New York and Paris. As one of Ottawa’s most interesting and provocative gallery owners, Bérubé attracts subversive talent to his gallery. La Petite Mort takes an approach that is “instinctive, impassioned, eclectic, inclusive, spontaneous, humorous and human.”

*Christine Bruckert

Winner, Political Activist of the Year

Chris Bruckert is a former sex worker and a longtime advocate for the rights of sex workers. Motivated to undertake graduate studies by her frustration with misrepresentations of the industry and its workers, Chris devoted herself to bridging the academic world and the community. Her 2006 needs assessment of Ottawa’s street-based sex workers allowed sex workers to have a voice in a debate that too often excludes them. In 2008, Chris helped found POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work, Educate, Resist) — the first organization in Ottawa run by and for sex workers. Chris helped POWER secure funding, hire a project coordinator, provide training to sex workers, undertake public education and mount the first-ever rally for sex workers’ rights on Parliament Hill.

Michael Burtch
Nominee, AIDS Activism

In the last six months of 2008, Michael has raised over $11,000 dollars for local AIDS, MS and cancer organizations — and he has been Scotiobank’s AIDS Walk For Life top individual earner two years in a row. Teaming up with local businesses, festivals, community groups, artists —  in particular Swizzles and Centretown Pub — he’s created fun fundraising events designed not only to raise cash, but also to create awareness and showcase local organizations. In January, Michael accepted a position within the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, becoming one of a handful of openly HIV-positive staff members in the agency’s history.

Eva Comeau
Nominee, Youth Activist of the Year

Eva is a first-year student at the University of Ottawa majoring in psychology with a minor in women’s studies. She works as a co-leader on the youth advisory committee for Project Acorn, a leadership camp being organized for the summer of 2009 for youth from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, two-spirited and queer communities. As co-president of her school’s gay-straight alliance for two years, she initiated a safety in the classrooms sticker campaign and worked towards respect for diversity within her high school. She has also spoken on queer issues, giving speeches to management, teaching staff and students focussing on safety in the classroom.

*Kathleen Cummings, Michelle Ball and ACO

Editor’s Choice

Michelle, Kathleen and the folks at the AIDS Committee of Ottawa have been the most public face in support of the City of Ottawa’s safer inhalation program for the last two years. When word leaked that city councillors would try to halt the distribution of inexpensive crack pipe kits, they swung into action. Their message: giving out these kits keeps drug users from sharing equipment, thereby reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis. After the city killed the program, ACO was part of a group of social service agencies that successfully navigated the program into the province’s funding stream. City funding ended in 2007, but in January, 2008 the program rolled out with the support of the province — and thanks to the advocacy of folks like Michelle and Kathleen.

Sheldon DeFilippi

Nominee, Youth Activist of the Year

Sheldon DeFilippi was born in Ottawa on June 11, 1991. At the age of 11, he came out to his friends and family and began familiarizing himself with the queer community. Once Sheldon reached high school, he began a diversity club (a gay-straight alliance) to raise awareness about issues in the community, educate his fellow schoolmates and provide a safe environment for them. Through his educational work, Sheldon and his GSA look to reduce discrimination in his school. Currently, he is advocating for student access to condoms at his school.

Nicky Diliso
Nominee, AIDS Activism

Nick Diliso was diagnosed with HIV in 1983, at a time when it was still known as GRID and there was no known treatment. Since then, he has been a passionate and vocal activist in the fight against the stigma and discrimination that is associated with HIV/AIDS and the impact that this has on the gay community. Nick currently co-facilitates the Long Term Survivor Group in Ottawa, a project which began through the AIDS Bereavement Project of Ontario. This peer-driven, peer-facilitated group seeks to support its members in living strong, healthy, complete lives despite the complexities of grief and loss associated with HIV/AIDS.

Dyke March Collective
Nominee, Community Activist of the Year

In 2008, the Dyke March met its five-year milestone with aplomb. They encountered hiccups along the way, including a challenging route and a confrontation with the Plant Bath recreation centre over the images on their poster. But the Dyke March was one of the highlights of the Pride calendar, thanks to a sunny day and a talented line-up of performers including Rae Spoon, Amy Campbell and Luna Allison at the post-march picnic. The Dyke March is planned by volunteers, and this year they received help from PSAC, Venus Envy, the AIDS Committee of Ottawa and Westfest, among others.

Josh Ferguson
Nominee, Political Activist of the Year

Joshua plays an integral role in the creation of a discrimination-free environments on Canadian campuses and in the greater community. As the founder and director of Standing Against Queer Discrimination (SAQD), Joshua has the strong belief that grassroots organizations, such as SAQD, are necessary to push for changes in discriminatory policies. That includes pushing to change the MSM policy at Canadian Blood Services — which sparked his passion for activist work. SAQD has blossomed into a nationally recognized organization in a short period of time and will continue to battle various forms of hatred and fear of difference in relation to genders, sexes and sexualities — with Joshua at the forefront.

Winner, AIDS Activism
GayZone is a collaborative effort, bringing together more than a half-dozen groups and agencies in Ottawa. It’s a one-year pilot project that puts gay men’s health services in one place for a few hours every Thursday night. Anonymous HIV and no-hassle STI testing is on the menu, and so is yoga, a smoking cessation program and — well, the sky’s the limit once this project takes off. GayZone is housed at the Centretown Community Health Centre.

Peter Honeywell
Nominee, Political Activist of the Year

Peter Honeywell is a passionate advocate for public funding to nurture the work of Canada’s artists. He worked as a visual artist, specializing in textile design from 1973 to 1988, and exhibited in galleries in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. He is the executive director of the Council for the Arts in Ottawa. Over the past 20 years, Peter has held memberships on a variety of municipal advisory panels and committees. He has also been an advisor to numerous arts organizations, including the Inside Out Film Festival and Toto Too Theatre. At the provincial level, he has held board, chair and steering committee positions with a number of organizations. He received the Sandra Tulloch Award for Innovation in the Arts, and was recently appointed to the Ontario Minister’s Advisory Council for Arts and Culture. During municipal budget talks, he can often be seen brandishing a “My Ottawa Includes Culture” sign.

Knowledge Circle
Nominee, Business of the Year

Knowledge Circle is second-language training centre with offices in downtown Ottawa. It helps civil servants get the language skills they need to work in a bilingual environment. Under the direction of president Geoffrey Eden, Knowledge Circle has emerged as one of Ottawa’s most queer-positive corporate citizens. Knowledge Circle matched dollar-for-dollar the donations that were raised during Capital Pride’s 2008 fundraising drive. In 2008, it also supported the Village Project, the Ten Oaks Project and other queer charities.

*Kayla Miller

Winner, Youth Activist of the Year

Kayla makes it her mission “to promote acceptance, encourage understanding, insert humour and spread love throughout the many organizations she has worked with.” She is the senior coordinator of Pink Triangle Youth, working with a team of three youth leaders. She co-facilitates the children’s programming at Rainbow Families, which was created by Around the Rainbow. Kayla also sits on the youth advisory committee for the Ten Oaks Project and is one of the co-coordinators for the Algonquin Alliance. Kayla has a passion for community programming, music and dance and can often be seen busting a move to encourage people to have fun and let loose.

*Pat Croteau Digital Imaging

Winner, Business of the Year

Nearly five years ago, Pat set out to become Ottawa’s community photographer. From Pride to Mr Leather Ottawa, to countless drag pageants, his camera has been there. A former Pink Triangle Youth director, Kelly McGinnis Library coordinator and Breathless advisory board member, Pat has leant his time to many queer causes. He opened Pat Croteau Digital Imaging in 2004, the same year he began freelancing for Capital Xtra. “I hope people take home a message from the Hero Awards,” he says. “We all have something to contribute, so make this your community by being part of it.”

*Sonja Prakash
Community Activist of the Year

Sonja is an HIV educator with more than 10 years experience in community work that focusses on youth, social justice and anti-oppression. Proudly volunteering with the Ten Oaks Project since 2004, Sonja is a member of their founding board of directors, a Camp Ten Oaks staff member and now leads the development of Project Acorn: a leadership retreat for youth from queer communities. Leaving her hometown of Montreal to pursue a Bachelor of Social Work at Carleton University, Sonja has come to embrace Ottawa and its communities of activists who live and agitate in the Capital.

*Jay Smidt & Carl Pilon

Sports & Athletics Award

Carl Pilon discovered rugby while on a Foreign Service assignment in San Francisco. At the suggestion of his then-partner Jay Smidt, he joined the Fog, the local gay rugby team, and he has never looked back.
Upon his return to Ottawa, Pilon and (now-husband) Smidt strove to form a gay-friendly rugby team; their efforts were crowned with success when the Eastern Ontario Rugby Union formally accepted the Ottawa Wolves as a member team in January 2009. The Wolves played their first-ever game against Toronto’s Muddy York in October 2008. The summer of 2009 will mark their first exhibition season.

*Jason St-Laurent and the Inside Out Film Festival
Winner, Achievement in the Arts

Moncton-born, ex-Ottawan Jason St-Laurent left the city in 2007 to join the Inside Out Film Festival in Toronto. Soon after leaving, however, he pitched a novel idea to Inside Out’s board: bring a satellite version of the hit film festival to Ottawa. Two years on, the Ottawa version of Inside Out is fast becoming a staple of the queer calendar, finding major backers (Telus, the National Gallery of Canada) and a growing audience of moviegoers.

Stefan St-Laurent and SAW Gallery
Nominee, Achievement in the Arts

Born in Moncton, NB in 1974, Stefan St-Laurent has a Bachelor of Media Arts from Ryerson University in Toronto. His performance and video-based work has been exhibited in various Canadian and international galleries and museums, including YYZ Artists’ Outlet in Toronto, Ottawa Art Gallery, Western Front in Vancouver, Centre national de la photographie in Paris, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Edsvik Konst och Kultur in Sweden and the Centre d’art contemporain de Basse-Normandie in France. He is curator of Galerie SAW Gallery. In 2008, SAW presented one of its most ambitious exhibitions in recent memory — the shocking and provocative Radical Drag. Blending photography, video and multimedia, Radical Drag culled work from four continents and over a dozen artists. Clearly a labour of love, Radical Drag quickly became the must-see exhibition of 2008.

Elizabeth Tyler

Nominee, Community Activist of the Year

Elizabeth Tyler is a 38-year-old lesbian who lives in Ottawa with her partner Catherine. She is the founder of the Freezer Project, a support service that offers a month’s worth of homemade dinners in a portable freezer to trans men and women in the Ottawa area who are recovering form SRS or other related surgeries. She’s an active member of the Lesbian Information Xchange, SAGE, the Pink Triangle Services Women’s Group, Ten Oaks and PFLAG Ottawa. In her spare time, Elizabeth works as a carpenter and plays roller derby with the Capital Carnage team of the Ottawa women’s roller derby league.

Venus Envy
Nominee, Business of the Year

Venus Envy Ottawa is an educational sex shop and bookstore that has been serving the people of Ottawa since 2001. It is a fun and welcoming place to buy sex supplies and books, and its knowledgeable staff offers support and advice as well as frequent workshops on all aspects of gender and sexuality. The store takes great pleasure in being a community oriented business, frequently hosting readings and performances and organizing fundraising parties and dances, often in collaboration with other community organizations. Causes include the Venus Envy Bursary Fund, which gives money to women and trans people who wish to further their education.

Compiled by Marcus McCann.