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Community Appeal launches big-prize award

A bequest aims to reward ambition

A 13-year-old bequest from a gay couple who made Toronto their chosen home is about to blossom into Canada’s richest queer prize.

The first-ever Jonathan R Steinert And Fernando G Ferreiro Award will offer $12,500 each to two overachievers in its inaugural year at a Lesbian And Gay Community Appeal (LGCA) gala in November.

It’s a big chunk of change – for example, Canada’s richest literary prize, the Giller, is worth $25,000 – and it arrives as LGCA celebrates its 25th anniversary.

“We’re at a point in Toronto’s queer history where we can look at the people who got us to where we are today and say thanks,” says LGCA cochair Doug Kerr. “Cash prizes are important because it shows what these people are doing is important.”

The award will go to individuals, chosen by an LGCA panel, who have “made a significant contribution through the arts and sciences in promoting the understanding and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual and Two-spirited people in the Greater Toronto Area.”

That could mean anything from advocacy to social work to scientific research to a piece of art, so long as the effort can be seen as promoting queer understanding and acceptance.

“The criteria is wide open. I’m looking at the bottom line – the contribution,” says Kris Fortomaris, a friend of the couple who is executor of the estate and who will sit on the panel. In future years, there will likely be only one award of about $10,000, though it will depend on the performance of the endowment investment.

Ferreiro immigrated to Toronto from Santiago, Chile in 1973, earning a doctorate of psychology at the University Of Toronto. On vacation in San Francisco in 1985, he met Steinert, who relocated to Toronto to be with Ferreiro. Steinert was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in 1990 and passed away that year.

Fortomaris met Ferreiro, who went into private practice as a psychologist, the year he arrived in Canada and knew him for almost 20 years.

“He was outgoing and gregarious and good looking,” says Fortomaris. “They had a lot of house parties. It was all social, no fundraising events, but he was associated with his support of Casey House.

“He talked about the endowment fund before he died. He really wanted people to be a little more active, not so docile. He wanted people to be doing something for the cause.”

While staying at Casey House hospice, Ferreiro passed away from AIDS in 1992. The couple’s will was a joint one and it took a long time for the LGCA to get the endowment, valued at about $288,000, sorted out.

Fortomaris says the world has changed a lot since Ferreiro and Steinert started talking about the endowment.

“There has been more com-munity involvement and also a greater acceptance,” he says. “At the same time, most of their friends have been wiped out by AIDS. It’s a totally different generation now.”

The LGCA, which functions as something of a queer United Way, is best known for its grants; in 2005 it gave more than $51,000 to 32 different projects or groups doing work in arts and culture, health and social services, and research and education.