Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Celebrating unsung Toronto queer heroes

Portraits and audio-visual projects highlighting Toronto-based artists and activists whose contributions to our queer communities often go unnoticed

Photographer Tania Anderson’s new exhibition at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, We Could be Heroes (Just for One Day), is exactly what it sounds like: a celebration of unsung heroes. It’s a series of 14 portraits and four audio-visual projects highlighting Toronto-based artists and activists whose contributions to our queer communities often go unnoticed.

“I wanted to honour brave and hardworking people who make art and do artivism in their communities and who are not visible or well recognized,” Anderson says.

Two of these individuals are Kiley May and Sunny Drake.

Subject: Kiley May, 28, artist

Kiley May is a two-spirit queer trans artist who is Mohawk from Six Nations and uses the pronoun “they.” They are training to become a facilitator and are currently part of Supporting our Youth’s Human Rights Equity Access Team  and The 519’s Trans Sex Workers Empowerment Project. They’ve also worked with the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and speak to children on reserves.

“I do what I do because I think of all of the young people and the children coming behind me, especially in my community — in indigenous communities —who need so much help,” May says.

“I think now I’m hitting a point where people are starting to take recognition of what I’m doing, but it took quite a few years of a lot of volunteering and doing free work and putting myself out there.”

Despite the hard work, dedication and exposure, May still feels underrepresented.  “There’s not enough women — trans women of colour — in the community who have leadership positions or whose voices are being heard,” they say, adding that’s particularly true of indigenous trans women.

Anderson included May in the exhibition because of their “amazing creative bond.” As is the case with her other subjects, Anderson’s work is collaborative. “She truly knows how to create a comfortable safe space and that helps me to try different things and do new things,” May says.

“I literally documented [their] transitioning and have continued to do so,” Anderson says.

May, whose photos also make up one of the exhibition’s audio-visual projects, can see the value of that documentation as they revisit the old images. “I sort of saw myself blossom and open up and become more comfortable overtime through our process.”

Subject: Sunny Drake, 39, writer/performer/producer

Sunny Drake is the director of the Emerging Creators Unit at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and an independent artist who creates, performs and tours his own theatre work.

“I create theatre that explores queer and trans experiences,” Drake says. “I want to be part of creating the sort of world I want to live in and creating theatre, writing and telling stories feels like one thread in an array of things that need to happen to get there.”

Like May, Drake is content with the recognition he gets, especially in the theatre world and online. But as far as representation goes, he also feels there’s a lot to be desired.

“I feel like trans stories are underrepresented in the mainstream,” he says. “Particularly, for example, a femme trans man’s story.”

Any qualms about fulfilling that role in this exhibition he erased when he looked at the bigger picture. “It’s a lot bigger than me. It’s about celebrating [Anderson’s]  project of documenting queer and trans folks over a number of decades.”

(We Could be Heroes (Just for One Day)
Thursday, March 24–Sunday, May 22, 2016
Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives, 34 Isabella St, Toronto
clga.ca)