7 min

And the finalists are . . .

Come to the Heroes Awards to see who wins

Credit: (Capital Xtra file photo)

They may not be dressed up in spandex (at least not during the day), but the group of people below are heroes to the queer community nevertheless. Capital Xtra recognises the contributions that these outstanding individuals — the finalists in each category — have made to build our local and national communities. Winners in each category will be announced Oct 26 at a gala award ceremony. Get your tickets early.

Political Activist of the Year

Andrew Brett.
A queer youth, Andrew has spent the past year working on the age of consent campaign, which is lobbying the federal government to not raise the age of sexual consent and, in fact, to lower the age for anal sex to 14 from 18. He also ran for office in the last federal election, and while he didn’t win the seat, he is ensuring that his voice is heard.
“Youth are already disenfranchised and not given a voice as it is,” says Andrew. “When you add the fact that a lot of us are queer on top of that, it further removes our voices. I think it’s the obligation of anyone who can raise their voice to do so.”

Libby Davies.
The MP for Vancouver East and the NDP House Leader, Libby has taken a leadership role in reforming laws around prostitution, bathhouses, and drug addiction. Her leadership saw a cross-Canada tour of a justice sub-committee that, for the first time in Canadian history, sat down with prostitutes to find out what they need from government. And she’s spoken out for changing the law that police use to raid gay bathhouses. Right now, she’s trying to make sure the subcommittee puts out a report about how bawdyhouse and prostitution laws should be changed– despite the best efforts of the ruling Conservatives to prevent the report from seeing daylight.

“I think it’s very important in the queer community to have strong role models and people who are out and proud of it, and who are willing to take issues on,” Libby says. “As much as possible, I try to speak out.”

Tom Warner.
Longtime activists know Tom for his decades of service in CLGRO, the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario — Ontario’s leading queer action group. Some may know Tom as the author of best book out there on the history of Canada’s queer movement — Never Going Back. In the past year, Tom has helped ensure that CLGRO’s attention has stayed focussed on changing Canada’s sex laws to deal with the bawdyhouse laws and opposing the Conservative government’s proposal to increase the age of consent. Not afraid to take on the tough sex-related issues, CLGRO is now emerging as the leading activist group on the national scene.

“I see myself as being a bit of an educator,” Tom says. “Both within the community in terms of educating people about various issues and why they need to be concerned or involved, but I also see myself as being an educator for the broader community to create awareness and understanding about our community and the issues that are important to us.”

Community Activist of the Year

Gordon Boissonneault.
Gordon served as treasurer of the Ottawa-Gatineau Pride Committee, helping to turn around the festival’s ailing financial situation. It took a team of people to pull off Pride this year, and to come out ahead, but Gordon’s financial management was key. Others on the board were also nominated, but Gordon is a finalist partly to reflect his leadership as a trained professional in coming forward to help an organization in need. Several of our key organizations are in desperate need of people of Gordon’s calibre sitting on their boards and executives and our community hopes Gordon’s success will encourage others to come forward to sit on Pride and other boards.

Gordon sees his role in the community as that of a developer. “I want to continue to be a player in the community,” he says. “It’s been a life-transforming thing for me, personally, and it’s been extremely rewarding.”

James Bromilow.
James initially volunteered to spearhead the effort to draft bylaws for the the GLBTTQ Community Centre Project. Before long, he was promoted to interim chair of the board when previous co-chair Nathan Taylor ended up being assigned to the Ukraine for work. Bromilow saw the Community Centre Project through its first AGM, where he was again elected to the board as chair. He’s nominated on behalf of all the community members who helped rapidly advance this previously lagging project this past year.

“If anything, I’m a facilitator,” James says. “My role as chair makes it my responsibility to be visible, recognizable, and a mediator that takes the time to listen to the community in order to make the community grow.”

May El-Abdallah.
May is one of the founders and organisers of Agitate, a group devoted to the outreach towards queer women of colour. Our community in the past year and a bit has seen an advancement in the number of youth and minorities founding new groups and participating in established organizations. Agitate has an important role to play in helping ensure the full spectrum of our community gets its place at the table.

Youth Activist of the Year

Jean-Yves Benard.
Jean-Yves is the senior coordinator at Pink Triangle Youth and the youth leader for the Youth Services Bureau’s youth engagement programme for the youth education advocacy committee. Where there are youth doing community work, you’ll find Jean-Yves.

“I see myself as a person who does a lot of work, gets involved in as much as I physically can,” Jean-Yves says of his volunteerism.

Jeremy Dias.
The founder of Jer’s Vision, an anti-discrimination scholarship fund, Jeremy has turned his fledgling charity into a national organization. This year, Jer’s Vision awarded their first two scholarships, and is launching new programmes and creating new partnerships.

“I think Jer’s Vision plays a really unique role in the community,” says Jeremy. “We try to make it the next step for gay and lesbian activism in Canada. Now that we have all of our rights, for all intents and purposes, we have to start addressing discrimination.”

Nick Downer.
As a student at Algonquin, Nick saw the need for a queer group at the college, and took it upon herself to organise one at a college where most previous gay and lesbian groups have failed. While still battling the student’s association for a space, and for protection from campus homophobia, Nick has seen her efforts bear some fruit.

“It’s up to everybody to be involved in the community if they want to see it go somewhere,” Nick says. “I’m just putting myself out there for people who want to see it go somewhere, and hope that it’s important enough for people to recognise it and help me make it possible.”

AIDS Activist of the Year

Danny Clavette.
Seeing a need for services for HIV-positive youth in the Ottawa area, Danny just took the initiative and formed the Youth Group at the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, and now manages it.

“I speak for people who don’t speak for themselves,” Danny says. “I’d like to advocate for their rights and the services that they deserve.”

Gustavo Hannecke.
A Community Developer with the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, Hannecke also published a book for the last AIDS Day called Our Way Through. It’s an excellent and very touching book featuring stories and pictures of local people living with HIV/AIDS.

“As someone who is staff with ACO, but who is also a PHA, I have the power and strength to work with the community, as well as the understanding from my community,” Gustavo says of his dual role.

Jay Koornstra.
The executive director of Bruce House, Jay has this year overseen the completion of the renovations to the Bruce House hospice, continued work in community planning for HIV/AIDS, worked with the provincial housing projects on HIV/AIDS, and worked with the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE). He’s a clear leader in Ottawa’s community. But he goes beyond to influence provincial and federal responses to AIDS and housing issues.

“I liken a community to one’s home,” Jay says. “In order to have a home you’re comfortable in, to feel good about where you live, you sometimes have to put a little effort into it.”

Achievement in Sports & Athletics

Tony Do, Daniel Sabourin, Dan deVette and Michael Cooper for Team-êquipe.
With the clock ticking for the Montreal Outgames, these four representing the Volleyball team, Rideau Speedeaus and Frontrunners banded together to ensure that Ottawa had unified representation at the Games. Their efforts met with success, and they plan to keep the umbrella organisation going to help keep Ottawa’s queer sports communities unified as they look forward to the next Outgames in Copenhagen in 2009, and the continental games in Calgary next year.

“A supportive structure would be helpful for a lot of groups out there,” Michael says. “There’s clearly a demand for it.”

Adds Dan, “It brings people together a bit more, so that they’re not thinking they’re the only ones out there.”

Mark Rejhon.
After becoming Canada’s first licensed deaf skydiver in 2005, Mark Rejhon didn’t stop. “I organized the Rainbow Boogie 2006 event, which is the first gay skydiving event,” he says. “I [also] became part of the Gay Way world record — a 10-way formation skydive of gay skydivers.” Mark organized the events and plans for an encore next year.

Rejhon sees himself as a someone building a network for other gay skydivers around the world, and now counts contacts in countries like the United States, the UK, and New Zealand.

Achievement in the Arts

The Habit.
Aside from their perennial support for the local queer community, including their performances at Pride, the Habit also made news this year by releasing a song in May called “Fighter.” It was a message to Stephen Harper not to reopen the equal marriage debate. The overwhelming response to that song had a local club owner organise an event called “Don’t Turn Back The Clock,” which showcased that song as a message to Parliament.

“Our music is personal, and we don’t necessarily start with a political message,” says front-man Darren Rogers. “But if our music is suitable to a political cause that’s relevant to the community, then we’re more than happy to use our music and our profile to contribute to that cause.”

Jason & Stefan St Laurent for SAW Gallery/SAW Video.
Over the past year, SAW has become a recognizable queer-friendly space in Ottawa’s arts community, where between 40 and 50 out of 150 events were queer. As well, SAW hosted Jizz, a night of performance art and dancing that followed in the boundary-pushing tradition of Vazaleen out of Toronto, and collaborated with other local groups for events like Holy Fuck III. Jason & Stefan also made a splash with their own transgressive artworks, including a showing at La Petite Mort Gallery.

“We want to see ourselves as the alternative queer cultural centre,” Jason says. “And we’re starting to build towards it slowly.”

Merida Waters.
This past year, Waters turned her talents towards single-handedly starting a literary magazine called The Voice. The quarterly will feature women’s literature and artwork and will also serve as a fundraiser for local community groups.

“I used to see my role just as an artist standing in the background,” Water says. “But I decided to do something. My magazine is a way for me, as an artist and a designer, to contribute.”