Ten years ago, when Holly and Julia Wagg first started talking about creating an organization for queer youth and families, people told them it couldn’t be done — and what’s more, that it didn’t need to be done.
The pair, who have been together for 11 years and have three children, say they saw a need in the community for an organization that would allow the children of LGBT families to connect. “When we thought about starting the Ten Oaks Project, and when we did start it, everyone told us there was no space in our community for families and that this wasn’t a need in Ottawa,” Julia says.
“It was very weird because we knew that was actually the opposite of our experience,” Holly says.
But 10 years later, as more LGBT couples choose to adopt or have children, Ten Oaks is celebrated for its dedication. “For us, Ten Oaks was about making families, children and youth from LGBT families — and the community at large — visible in a way that we hadn’t seen them before,” Julia says.
“Ottawa would be a completely different place for queer people — especially queer parents, queer children and queer teenagers — if it wasn’t for Ten Oaks,” says Hannah Watt, Capital Pride’s director of youth and families.
Ten Oaks offers two annual camp programs for children and youth, as well as workshops exploring the experiences of queer youth. The organization has also taken an active role in Pride, marching in the parade and co-hosting the popular Picnic in the Park event for LGBT families and allies.
Holly and Julia will be taking on the role of community-builder marshals in the Pride parade this year, representing the place that queer families have carved out in the community. They will be joining grand marshal Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale; international marshal Cason Crane; lifetime achievement marshal Murray Lavigne; youth marshal Elliot Wehrle and Capital Pride’s out icon Elvira Kurt.
“The things that [Holly and Julia] have done for the larger community and for their own family [are] incredible; I’m so happy they are our marshals,” Watt says.
For Capital Pride, family programming has become more of a focus in recent years. In addition to the Picnic in the Park, there is also the Kids Can tent at the Capital Pride Community Fair, sponsored this year by Giant Tiger. The tent started out as a daycare service for parents enjoying the festivities, Watt says, but has since become more of a family-focused area for kids and adults.
There is also programming geared toward LGBT youth planned by Etc, Capital Pride’s youth committee. The Pride Prom is returning with a circus theme, joined by a glow-in-the-dark dance party and the weekly Café Q youth drop-in group at PTS.
But it’s the picnic that is really the standout family event at Pride. “It’s incredibly important because it’s very grassroots,” Watt says. “A lot of Pride celebrations either start with a riot, a parade or a picnic; I think it’s very important that we keep our parade and we keep our picnic, and luckily we’re at a time where we don’t need a riot.”
The picnic will feature a free barbecue for LGBT families, crafts and face painting hosted by Family Services Ottawa and a poetry workshop. The event is co-hosted by Ten Oaks, which handles most of the logistics and entertainment planning. “It’s a really great mix to have [Capital Pride and Ten Oaks] working together,” Watt says. “It’s the same basic thing every year because it’s just done right . . . it’s definitely one of those ‘don’t fix it if it’s not broken’ sort of things.”
Ten Oaks is also partnering with the Sexual Health Advisory Group to present SHAG with Pride, a drop-in event for queer teens and youth happening on Aug 19. The event is poetry-themed, says Rukiya Mohamed, logistics and projects coordinator at Ten Oaks, and will focus on queer and trans youth.
Pride represents an important chance for the LGBT community to come together, Julia says, including those who call the suburbs and more rural areas home. “It’s a big enough draw that it’s . . . the one time of year that people will get in their car from Barr-haven, or they’ll come from Kanata or Chelsea, and they’ll see what’s available in our community.”
Holly and Julia say that the Picnic in the Park is not and should not be the sole event for queer families, particularly given Pride’s downtown focus. “It’s one of the many events that are offered now throughout the year for families,” Holly says, pointing out that many suburban communities organize their own events and do their own local community building.
“I believe that people who are looking for a space to connect their family to the LGBT community can do that with a Google search. It’s about creating compelling, meaningful opportunities to do that,” Julia says. “What Pride makes possible is that one moment where all of those people, from all of those interested communities and axes, come together and are visible.”
For more about the Ten Oaks Project, visit tenoaksproject.org.