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Gay archives gets new manager

Jenn Finan wants CLGA to engage with the community

PORTRAITS. New Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives general manager Jenn Finan, pictured here in the CLGA reading room. Credit: Rob Salerno

Jenn Finan knows the value of a good story. And that’s going to come in handy in her new role as the general manager of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archive (CLGA).

“Twenty years from now, it will be nice to come back here and find out about the people who were involved in the Pussy Palace raids and the bathhouse raids and all of these moments that were iconic to the community,” she says.

The CLGA is already one of the largest queer archives in the world and serves as a repository of queer history from Toronto and around the world. As part of a new strategy to make the CLGA more prominent in Toronto’s queer community, Finan — whose background is in corporate diversity training — plans to make the archives’ spacious new home in a renovated mansion on Isabella Street into a community hub.

Community groups will be able to host meetings, and people will be invited to share their first-person accounts of queer history in the CLGA’s spacious meeting room and portrait gallery.

“People’s lives and personal stories are going to have the most impact,” Finan says. “It helps pull you into the story. When I do my diversity training, one of the first things I do is start off with a personal story of my life. Having those personal stories helps put a face on it for people outside of the event or the community and helps humanize it for those people. They can say, ‘I’ve experienced something like that.'”

Finan, who is trans, has a way of imbuing her own story with the rich personal details that are an archivist’s dream. She grew up in the Willowdale neighbourhood of North York, where she went to “good Catholic schools,” including the relatively posh, private all-boys St. Michael’s College, where she says “I learned enough Latin to get into trouble if I ever meet an ancient Roman.”

“It was a very big hockey school. I went to school with [former NHL stars] Paul Coffey and Tony Tanti. But I was a bookworm. I just hid away and did my work and tried to stay out of people’s way. They’re very good about reinforcing gender norms,” she says.

Years later, while working on the trading floor for CIBC, Finan began her transition into a woman. She then found her calling in helping to make corporations, government and the social sector more accessible and diverse. Three years ago, she left the bank to start her own diversity consulting firm.

Finan sits on the board of the Sherbourne Health Centre, is the founding co-chair of Pride at Work Canada and is pursuing her BComm at Ryerson University.

“I can be a very driven personality when I want to,” Finan says with a laugh.

That drive will serve the CLGA well as it expands its role, Finan says.

“The key thing I’d like the community to know is that we exist. Because of the renovation and move, we’ve been in a holding pattern for the last couple of years. We’re out there and we’re looking at going forward and making this a space that works for the community much more than for the past.”

For more information, or to make a donation, go to
www.clga.ca.