18 min

Capital Xtra Hero Awards nominees

Get to know Ottawa's queer community heroes; award ceremony on Fri, Feb 12

A LOCAL MAINSTAY. T Eileen Murphy (above) and George Hartsgrove will each receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Feb 12 ceremony.

Check out the nominees for this year’s Hero Awards! Join the party on Fri, Feb 12 at the Montgomery Legion Hall (330 Kent St) at 7pm. $5 cover at the door. See the Facebook event for more details.

Political Activist of the Year

Karen Cocq
Karen Cocq is a founding member of No One Is Illegal Ottawa — an organization of (im)migrants and allies that works to defend the rights of migrants, fight racist immigration controls and confront the “anti-terrorism” agenda. Over the years, she has been very involved in several campaigns: the case of Dr Hassan Diab, a Carleton University professor facing extradition; the fight to bring home Abousoufian Abdelrazik — a Canadian citizen abandoned and tortured in Sudan, and the ongoing efforts to support those being detained in Canada via unjust “Security Certificates.” Currently, she is organizing with NOII Ottawa to help win safe access to services for non-status people living in Canada and working with numerous groups across the country to challenge the G8/G20 at their upcoming meetings in June in Toronto. In the past, Karen has also been very active in anti-poverty organizing in Toronto and Kingston, including a campaign to gain access to the Special Diet Allowance for people forced to live in poverty through welfare and disability income. Karen currently sits on the Board of the Venus Envy Bursary Fund, which gives bursaries to women/trans people who want to further their education and are in financial need. In her day job, Karen manages the Central America & Mexico program at Inter Pares, an international social justice organization based in Ottawa that is working in solidarity with social movements around the world who are fighting for social change.

Zaheen K
When she’s not shopping for sneakers or watching trashy TV on the internet, Zaheen can be found dedicating her time to various community causes that she cares about. As a founding member of Agitate!, a local collective for queer people of colour, she’s found that you can never underestimate the power of grassroots organizing. Considering that queer people of colour collectives don’t even exist in most Canadian metropolises, it’s a testament to the group’s resilience and hard work that Agitate is still so active and vibrant five years into the project. Zaheen has helped organize various arty and political events through her work at Ladyfest Ottawa over the past two years and has also contributed to various anti-violence initiatives in the city through her work at SASC, including facilitating new volunteer trainings, demonstrating or volunteering at political actions such as Take Back the Night, and participating in fundraising efforts such as The Vagina Monologues and Heart-On Burlesque. She is currently a coordinator at OPIRG-GRIPO, where she is charged with organizing social justice programming on and off campus. Her commitment to queer, feminist and anti-racist causes isn’t just a reflection of her personal battles but borne of a need to build a community that supports each other’s struggles.

Martin Krajcik
What happens when members of the queer community come together with a willingness and desire to do great work? Miracles happen! It creates opportunity for enormous change, mutual inspiration and learning. Martin Krajcik has experienced this kind of miracle as a member of Queer Peace International (QPI) — an organization that facilitates networking between queer organizations, individuals and allies. QPI is committed to working across the global North/South divide to build capacities, share skills, develop transformative practices and to guide and intervene in international development programming. His vision is to inspire people to assist one another, in Canada and abroad, by sharing the ideals of equality, safety and wellbeing of all sexual and gender minorities. Martin brings his skills as a local and international educational consultant, trainer, coach and seminar organizer to bear in teaching entrepreneurship, business management, train-the-trainer modules, personal development, effective communication and leadership to the volunteer sector, non-profit groups, aboriginal communities and small businesses.

Community Activist of the Year

Ottawa KnightsThe Ottawa Knights was founded in 1975 as a leather and denim club with the goal of preserving the gay leather culture in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. Both a fraternity and community service group, Knights members strive to reach out to the local community. It is their wish to educate the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer communities about the leather/fetish lifestyle and promote respect, openness and social awareness. They contribute to the community through the creation of queer- and kink-positive spaces via monthly bar nights, which act as fundraisers for local community organizations and events. In 2009, they held fundraising events for the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, Bruce House, Capital Pride, and Gay Zone Gaie, along with their 32nd annual Toys for Tots fundraiser. The annual Mr Leather Ottawa event, put on by the Ottawa Knights and their community partners, is a community favourite that acts as a fundraiser for local groups in need of financial support. PFLAG is this year’s recipient of proceeds from the Mr Leather Ottawa event. The Knights also participate in Pride, sit on the GLBT Police Liaison Committee and maintain a regular presence at community functions. The club welcomes other community groups to contact them should they require the club to assist them with a fundraiser.

Shelley Taylor
Shelley Taylor is a generous and active member of Ottawa’s queer community. Though her store, Venus Envy Ottawa — which is about to celebrate its ninth anniversary — Shelley builds connections between like-minded people and provides a safe space for those who are looking for information on sexuality, gender, reproductive health and STIs. People who come in nervous often leave feeling empowered. Her employees say that the amazing community resource that is Venus Envy comes directly from Shelley. Her groundbreaking ideas and values and her personal strength are what make it what it is. She has created Venus Envy not only as a space to present interesting workshops, readings and lectures by sexperts, authors and performers but also as a place for local visual artists and photographers to display their work. Shelley also regularly allows the Venus Envy space to be used by community groups like Agitate and Sexual Overtones. The Venus Envy Bursary program, which was established by Shelley, provides two $1,000 educational bursaries per year, which are awarded to women/transfolk who are in financial need and are involved in their communities. Shelley also donates her personal time and products from her store to a number of fantastic community programs and events, like the Ten Oaks Project, Canadians for Choice and the Dyke March. Aside from all the community-building that Shelley creates through her store and her personal connections to activists and agitators all over North America, she also invests personally in many activities and continues to work with folks to come up with innovative ways to support and interact with our local communities.

Brendan James McGovern
Brendan represented Ottawa’s kink/fetish/BDSM community as Mr Leather Ottawa in 2009. Throughout his title-year, he participated in several fundraisers with the Ottawa Knights, including “Toys for Tots” and a fundraiser for ACO during one of the Ottawa Knights monthly bar nights at the Cell Block. Brendan also hosted some Fetish Fridays events at Club Edge with Zelda Marshall and other members of the drag community. During his title year, Brendan volunteered for Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend, International Ms Leather in San Francisco and International Olympus Leather 2009 in Los Angeles. He also served on the judging panel for Mr International Rubber 2010 and Mr Boston Leather 2010. In addition to that, Brendan attended (and networked at) Mr Leatherman Toronto 2009, Mid-Atlantic Leather 2009 in Washington DC, Eastern Canada Leather Sir/Leather Boy 2009 in Toronto, M Cuir Montreal 2009 and the Leather Leadership Conference 2009 in Atlanta. In May 2009, at 23 years of age, he was one of the youngest competitors in International Mr Leather history to stand on the podium in Chicago as first runner-up. Brendan has done a lot in the last year to put Ottawa on the map internationally as a place with a strong and long-standing leather/kink community. In the future, he hopes to contribute to making kink/BDSM educational programs and events more accessible to younger participants like himself.

Youth Activist of the Year

Julia CieslukowskaJulia Cieslukowska has been an active member of the queer community since her first year of high school. She was a leader in her high school’s gay-straight alliance and, after graduating, took on the project of running the National Capital Regional Diversity Network so she could continue supporting queer youth in local high schools by encouraging GSA and Diversity Club members across the region to meet, share ideas and support one another. She is a founding member of Dare to Stand Out (DtSO), an annual conference organized by and for queer teens, which will be running for the third year this March with the help of Jer’s Vision. This conference was so successful in the last two years that it inspired a DtSO chapter to open in Vancouver, with a goal of creating a BC-wide DtSO conference. Julia is on the Board of Jer’s Vision and takes part in making decisions on a variety of things, including budgets, fundraising and event organizing. She also sits on the youth advisory committee of Project Acorn, a four-day sleep away leadership retreat organized by queer youth for queer youth and run by Ten Oaks, which will be running again this summer. Over the years, Julia has received several grants for her activism and volunteering, and she is very passionate about making a difference in the lives of queer youth. She hopes to one day be able to say every queer teen feels safe and loved. Julia is now studying social work at Carleton University.

Frankie Chaloner
In 2008, Frankie began volunteering with Capital Pride, and it wasn’t long before she realized that there weren’t many youth-inclusive events within the Capital Pride festival. When the Capital Pride Youth committee was formed in 2009, she jumped on the chance to help out. As the only member of the committee who was also a volunteer for Pride, Frankie became the first youth Coordinator of Capital Pride. She was also voted onto the Capital Pride board of directors as secretary for the 2010 festival year, in addition to taking on the youth coordinator role for the second year. Frankie volunteers out of a desire to help and to feel a part of something bigger, but she also wants to help create a place for youth within Pride, especially in a community where so many of the queer events and gatherings are in bars or other age-restricted locations. Frankie also wants to help create visibility and wider acceptance for bisexuals, both within and outside the queer community. When people learn that her fiancé is male, they often begin questioning her. Why does she volunteer for Pride if she’s not gay? Just because she’s in a committed relationship with a man does not mean she’s straight. She’s queer, too. As for the future, Frankie looks forward to completing a certificate in the Early Childhood Education program at Algonquin College. With her diploma, she hopes to be part of a childcare centre that focuses on queer families and their allies.

Jean Yves Bénard
Jean Yves Bénard has been involved with youth activism in Ottawa for six years. He started working with Pink Triangle Youth, a for-youth-by-youth program running out of PTS, as a facilitator and went on to become the senior coordinator. From there, he started volunteering with the Youth Services Bureau on Ottawa’s Rainbow Youth Advisory Committee — a group that works toward raising awareness about queer youth issues and addressing any related needs. This involves training service providers on how to create safe spaces for queer youth in their environments and how to build toward more youth engagement and more of a youth-friendly approach to their work with young people in general. This past year, Jean Yves helped found a new committee with the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa: the Sexual Health Advisory Group (SHAG), a group of young people educating youth and service providers about sexual health and wellness. This year, he is the Volunteer Coordinator at PTS, trying to engage more youth volunteers in the agency. His work for the queer youth community comes from a desire to give what he feels was lacking in his youth in Ottawa, as well as to further his career in working with young people. He’s proud to have his contributions recognized at this year’s Capital Xtra Hero Awards, and the fact that there is a Youth Activist category goes to show that local youth are doing great work in our communities.

AIDS Activist of the Year

Michael BurtchAs a community developer for the AIDS Committee of Ottawa and an openly HIV-positive member of his queer community, Michael has participated in and organized panel discussions, testimonials, workshops, fundraisers, youth groups and socials to address HIV phobia and discrimination. In May of last year, Michael co-organized the first rally against the Criminalization of HIV transmission on Parliament Hill, garnering international attention on the blogosphere. On Mar 20, Michael is set to organize another first for Ottawa when he hosts the first quarterly Magnet Party at Swizzles Bar & Grill. Designed to decrease isolation, promote community-building and offer a safe space for disclosure, as well as to educate and to raise consciousness concerning the issues affecting HIV-positive people, The Magnet Party is a chance for HIV-positive and HIV-negative people to come together to support one another.

Brigitte Charbonneau
Brigitte Charbonneau has been HIV-positive for 16 years. She is a mother of two and a grandmother to eight wonderful grandkids. Brigitte first became involved in AIDS activism when she visited the AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO) in 1996. She has volunteered with ACO for the past 14 years, taking on a variety of roles including board member. These days, she focusses on giving free haircuts in the Living Room, helping to run the food bank and taking shifts at ACO reception. Brigitte has also been involved with Voices of Positive Women in Toronto. In 1999, after volunteering with the organization for a few years, she was asked to be the Chair of the Board. She fulfilled this role for a year-and-a-half and feels that “Voices” is a much-needed organization for women because our needs are very different than that of positive men. Brigitte first came out of the closet about being positive in mid-2000 after taking The Leadership Course from The Ontario AIDS Network and now you can’t shut her up! She has been a volunteer at Bruce House Board for 11 years and has done extensive fundraising. She also cuts hair in a volunteer capacity at the Sandy Hill Drop-in Centre once a month. What motivates her the most is the lack of education in the workplace and in Catholic schools, as well as the stigma that still follows us around in this day and age.

Bill Renaud
Bill Renaud is on the forefront of AIDS and HIV activism in Ottawa. AIDS is a cause that is dear to Bill’s heart, having lost friends and family to it throughout his life. In his volunteering, Bill aims to build awareness and understanding of AIDS in the broader community, as well as to raise money to help fund research toward a cure. He strives to be an example of what others can do for a cause that they are passionate about. In 2005, Bill rallied a group made up of local small business owners called the Ruby Ribbon Club to help underwrite the costs of the annual AIDS Walk in Ottawa. He and other members of the Renaud Otten ReMax team can be seen on the frontlines of the event, distributing bottled water and cheering on participants. Bill recently completed his second Smart Ride, a grueling 270km cycling journey from Miami to Key West over 1.5 days that raises money for AIDS research. This year’s ride raised more than $400,000. Bill’s passion for the cause made him a top fundraiser in the event, and he is excited about participating in this challenge for many years to come. Bill encourages others to find creative ways to increase awareness and prevention and, one day, find a cure to a virus that has claimed far too many lives. Bill welcomes you to join him in Ottawa or around the globe to make 2010 an even more successful year for AIDS awareness and prevention.

Achievement in the Arts

Dan ValinBorn and raised in Miramichi, NB, Dan has been an artist, performer and activist for most of his life. During his time in New Brunswick, he toured the world with groups such as Characters Incorporated and Brunswick Spirit, singing and dancing for millions of people. Dan moved to Ottawa in the late ‘90s and turned his focus to writing and producing music. He formed the band The Habit with fellow New Brunswicker Darren Rogers and released four recordings with the band over seven years. He parted ways with them in the summer of 2007 and began focusing on remixing and producing dance music. As a solo artist, Dan has played Cabaret Wednesdays at Swizzles, the Build our Bank village initiative at Café Paradiso, Anything but Vanilla’s fundraiser at Shanghai Restaurant and at the Lookout for Ottawa Pride 2009. He was the featured entertainment at this year’s Mr Leather Ottawa at St Brigid’s Centre. Dan also DJs every other weekend at CP/Cellblock and has spun for The Rideau Speedos’ annual fundraiser and the Ottawa Knights’ Toys for Tots fundraiser. In 2010, watch for a guest appearance by Dan on The Peptides new project, a remix of The Habit’s Highlife, a collaboration with Montreal producer Benoit Gorez and the release of Club Friendly — Dan Valin’s debut solo album. Check him out at, or on Facebook.

Philana Dollin & Sexual Overtones
Sexual Overtones (SO) is a non-profit performance troupe based in Ottawa dedicated to the art of sexual satire. Founded by local dyke, Philana Dollin, who wanted to create an outlet for expressing the diversity of human sexuality in a positive light, the Sexual Overtones troupe has been getting down and dirty all over Ottawa since its inception in August 2008. The troupe’s performances ride the seam between burlesque, physical humour and vaudeville entertainment and they aim to provide quality entertainment that is playful, inclusive and body-, female- and sex-positive. Through their productions, and as guests in fundraisers of all kinds, the volunteers, performers and audience members of SO have provided support to local non-profit organizations and initiatives of all kinds, including Ecology Ottawa, Cornerstone, AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO), Ladyfest Ottawa, the Venus Envy Bursary Fund, POWER and Build our Bank: The Village Benefit. Most recently, they performed to a sold-out crowd of more than 600 at the St Brigid’s Centre, raising money for Ecology Ottawa and the Cornerstone Women’s Shelter. Performers and audience members alike have helped to expand acceptance and love of human sexuality in all its splendid variety, while creating a safe, fulfilling, and esteem-boosting environment for breakthrough performance art. SO thanks everyone involved, as well as their friendly local media contacts, for helping them gain ‘exposure’ and do what they do best — give back to the community in which they live and put the fun back in fundraising!

Voices of Venus: Faye Estrella & Allison Armstrong
Voices of Venus started as a one-off event at Umi Café in March 2009, which was focussed on showing off the talents of local female poets to the wider community in order to counteract the guy-focused nature of the local spoken word scene. Women have so much to offer creatively, but it’s not always our first instinct to seek out the spotlight. Of course, if you’re queer, trans, a woman of colour or otherwise marginalized, you might have even more to overcome before you can get up in front of an audience and bare your soul. When the staff at the café decided to make the event into a monthly series, they thought it would be best to ask a couple of local poetry chicks to organize it. Of course, Faye Estrella and Allison Armstrong were all over that. Estrella and Armstrong think it’s important to support women poets of all stripes and recognize women’s talents and experiences as valid, valuable and worthy of being shared. Since its inception less than a year ago, Voices of Venus has featured a number of local queer poets, including Luna Allison, Megan Butcher, Jessica Ruano and Faye Estrella. The monthly series, which always starts off with an open mic, welcomes women of all experiences to come and perform. In addition to providing a space where women can make their voices heard, Voices of Venus is looking forward to working with Ottawa’s Dyke March in May 2010 in support of the group’s fundraising efforts.

Business of the Year

Second Cup: Grant Cobb and Michael MurkaMichael Murka and Grant Cobb, a couple in their fourth year together, bought the Second Cup café at the corner of Somerset and Bank in December 2008 in order to make a ‘rainbow statement’ — creating more visibility and queer-friendly space in Ottawa’s burgeoning gay village. Michael, who was born and raised in Centretown, is a local boy with deep roots in the gaybourhood. He is active in the local leather community and a former Mr Cell Block. Grant, who was born in Saskatchewan, has experience pulling together in a small gay community in order to be safe and who we are. They both realized there was a need locally for a safe and accepting place that we all can call ours. Grant and Michael feel blessed in their lives and recognize there is a responsibility that comes with such gifts — they had to give back. In 2009, their café acted as a sponsor of Mr Leather Ottawa, Mr Ottawa Bear 2009, Toto Too (for its production of “Happy Birthday"), Ottawa Gay Men’s Chorus, Pink Triangle Teens, the YSB ‘rainbow flag raising’, various breast cancer fundraisers, the Abiwin Co-op, Bronson Centre, AIDS Committee of Ottawa, Bruce House and the United Way Campaign. It is also the official coffeehouse for The Saturday Coffee Club for gay men, the Pink Triangle Teens’ Wednesday night hang out, and The Ottawa Bears’ Sunday afternoon coffee.

Wicked Wanda’s
Wanda Cotie, the owner of Wicked Wanda’s Adult Emporium, is the single mother of three amazing daughters, her eldest being gay. Throughout the years, they have helped each other grow and her daughters are well-grounded in their views on sexuality. Wanda originally opened Wicked Wanda’s in 2007 in Ottawa’s west end. She has since moved to Bank St in Centretown and has very much become a part of queer events and organizations about town. In 2009, Wicked Wanda’s sponsored Mr Leather Ottawa, Capital Pride and donated various products or gift certificates for the Ottawa Knights monthly giveaways to raise funds for the community and various causes. Wanda’s also regularly donates to sexual health groups and participates in fundraising for HIV/AIDS research, women’s groups and various local youth-oriented services. As a business owner, there is a special place in Wanda’s heart for kink and leather events and organizations in the community, as she has been involved in kink since her early 20s. The store offers a “home away from home” atmosphere for kinksters, queers and those looking to becomes more open in their sexuality. Just ask anyone who comes to Wicked Wanda’s for advice or a place to discuss personal differences and feel understood.

Shanghai Restaurant
Shanghai Restaurant, established in 1971 holds the title as Ottawa Chinatown’s first Chinese restaurant. A family-owned and operated business, the restaurant has found a niche bringing together the business and arts communities. Over the years, Shanghai has contributed to many local queer charities, fundraisers and been host to countless queer events including Certain Sort, Queer Spelling Bee, the Gayting Game, Chicks and Giggles — the list goes on. A long time supporter of the local arts scene, Shanghai has exhibited art by a number of queer artists, including Carl Stewart, Ashley MacLellan and Paul Wong. In addition, they host musicians, DJs, poetry nights, comic jams and weekly karaoke nights featuring Ottawa’s karaoke impressario ChinaDoll. The restaurant has become an unofficial hub for Ottawa artists, musicians and performers, providing a nurturing contemporary space that strives to include all members of our community.

Lifetime Achievement Awards

T Eileen MurphyT Eileen Murphy has been a mainstay in the local queer community since moving to Ottawa to go to Algonquin College in the late ‘60s. Her first major volunteer contribution was with Gays of Ottawa, for whom she worked the bar and the door in support of queer dances from 1971-76. She also staffed the Friday night lesbian drop-in at the Ottawa Women’s Centre from 1972-75. Toward the end of that decade, she helped to found Dignity Ottawa and was a member of the group from 1977-1990, working as its treasurer for one year. Eileen has also been involved with Sage Ottawa since 1992, working as treasurer of the group’s social committee and a financial advisor on the advisory committee from 1992-97. From 1998 up to the present day, she has been a member of Sage Ottawa’s steering committee. For the last 12 years, Eileen has been a part of the Ottawa-Carleton GBLT Health Task Force as a general member, as well as a representative for Sage. She has been a member of Pink Triangle Services since 1997 and PFLAG since 1999, volunteering whenever she’s needed. Since 1999, Eileen has also been a central volunteer for Capital Pride. From 1999-2004, she was a member of both the Ops Committee and the Bylaw Committee and since then has been a committed volunteer for the annual festival. Eileen has also been a Bruce House volunteer since 2000, committing her abundant energy and enthusiasm to the Quilt Project, the AIDS Walk, the Red Ribbon Campaign, Gay Expo and Taste for Life. She has committed a decade of volunteering to the GLBT Community Centre, as well, joining that organization in 2000 as a general member and a representative for SAGE. Eileen has also been a volunteer with Lambda Ottawa since 2003. More recently, Eileen joined the Senior Pride Network and has been a member for the past two years. When asked what motto guides her in her day-to-day life, this was her reply: Tomorrow will be better. It’s no surprise, then, that the most important thing for Eileen is the feeling of satisfaction she gets from helping to create a better community for the future.

George Hartsgrove
After coming to Ottawa to work for Carleton University, George discovered that there were other people just like him — and very few of them let it be known. But more and more, George was meeting others who also felt that we should be treated better. In the mid ‘80s, George joined Lambda, a social group for gay and lesbian professionals. Focused on self-improvement and networking, the group tended to attract people on their way out of the closet. In 1985, Pink Triangle Services held its first annual fundraiser at the Museum of Natural Sciences. The event attracted a lot of middle-class gays and lesbians, many of them new to community events. There was much enthusiasm for the project and money was given hand over fist. George was part of this PTS fundraiser, which made $24,000 in one night. In 1986, George was one of about 300 people who marched in the first local Gay Pride celebration, which was organized by Gays of Ottawa. That same year, he took a bold leap and bought a house on Frank Street to set up a queer-friendly Bed and Breakfast while continuing to work in the research community at the University of Ottawa. This was the first B&B in the city that openly welcomed gays and lesbians. While sitting on the front step of his B&B in 1993, his neighbour, Brandon Matheson asked if he would like to come and work for a new newspaper starting up in Ottawa, Capital Xtra. Never one to shy away from a challenge, he cut his down to part-time hours at the university and took on the role of heading up advertising sales. In the years that followed, George acted as marketing and public relations manager for the Making Scenes Film and Video Festival, project coordinator for Egale Canada, president of Act Out Theatre, coordinator of Ottawa’s GLBT bowling group and has served on the boards of AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO) and Egale. In 2007, George decided that it was time to slow down a bit, leave the B&B business behind and take a break from volunteer work, but he still finds time to serve on the board of PTS.