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Meet the 2016 LOUD youth leaders

Scholarship recipients already reaching out to next generation of LGBT youth

The LOUD Foundation awarded scholarships to a record 10 students for their community leadership, June 8, 2016, the highest number in the GLBT business association’s seven-year history of awarding the scholarships.

Here’s a look at some of the 2016 recipients, whom event emcee Caryl Dolinko described as the next generation of leaders who will “set the stage for the rest of us, and the communities to come.”

AJ MacLeod, Jim Deva Memorial Scholarship

(Derek Bedry/Daily Xtra)

When AJ MacLeod left their small-town Nova Scotia home at the age of 17, they vowed to someday do whatever they could to make sure youth in similar situations wouldn’t feel alone.

Resources were scarce to nonexistent. “I experienced the marginalization and stigma that existed around the queer community. I didn’t even know of a queer community in my town,” says MacLeod, who uses the pronoun they.

When MacLeod moved to Nanaimo, they felt a similar sense of isolation due to the lack of queer-friendly local services.

“That really inspired me to create resources for youth so that people didn’t feel alone.”

MacLeod established support networks for LGBTQ youth, first with a queer support group and a trans mentorship program through the Boys and Girls Club.

Eventually, MacLeod and colleagues partnered with Vancouver Island University to launch Generation Q, a conference showing youth-service providers, who work with trans, two-spirit, intersex and non-binary and queer youth, how to be inclusive.

MacLeod says Nanaimo is a great environment for these projects.

“There was just an opportunity to step up and provide these things. I feel really blessed by a supportive community to be able to provide resources and to connect with the youth, who are really amazing.”

Alan J Chaffe, Barajas/Reese Scholarship

(Derek Bedry/Daily Xtra)

Alan J Chaffe’s coming-out experience filled him with a sense of duty.

“It was a very emotional, yet exciting time in my life when I realized my sexuality,” he says. “When I started to identify I was different, I needed to educate my family. I realized the privilege I have as a gay person in educating my family could enable me to educate others on a wider scale.”

Chaffe says his eyes opened to the queer movement while completing an undergrad degree at the University of British Columbia. He took his newfound passion for activism to the University of Ottawa, founding the Capital Pride Youth Society, the first youth organization run by a Pride society.

“We called them our spies,” Chaffe says. “I think that really helped me understand how we as leaders in our communities can help the next generation grow the movement and change perceptions of how people think and perceive LGBT people.”

Chaffe is now working on his PhD in educational psychology and leadership studies at the University of Victoria, and ranks within the top one percent of students in the past five years. His thesis examines how queer people organize as a social movement and enact leadership compared with other social movements.

Aidan Bancroft, Gina Best Scholarship

(Derek Bedry/Daily Xtra)

A hearing impairment might initially have seemed like something that could hold Aidan Bancroft back, diminishing their power to speak out.

But Bancroft, who uses the pronoun they, discovered a love for facilitating communication across cultural gaps while taking communications electives at Simon Fraser University.

It was here that Bancroft explored how they could use their fierce desire to be an advocacy leader and develop an “authentically loud” voice.

Being “loud,” Bancfort says, means speaking with strength and confidence, not merely at a high volume.

“How do we talk to each other when we’re not speaking the same language — whether that’s literally or the language of our experiences, level of knowledge, the kinds of people we’ve surrounded ourselves with?” they ask. “Not everyone is fortunate enough to have someone from the LGBTQ community in their family or close circle of friends, even sometimes their vicinity.”

Bancroft completed a co-op, followed by a two-year employment stint, at SFU’s Centre for Dialogue. They want to keep exploring opportunities in facilitating dialogue across cultural gaps.

“I think of that age-old idea: you can’t hate anyone whose story you know.”

(Gala emcee Caryl Dolinko leads the LOUD recipients in a cheer./Derek Bedry/Daily Xtra)

Jotika Samant, Pride Youth Scholarship

(Derek Bedry/Daily Xtra)

A survivor of household violence, Jotika Samant says the power of art has helped her transform her experiences into resilience and healing.

“As a queer woman of colour, a lot of us have experienced violence and have generations of folks who have experienced violence or generational trauma,” she says.

Samant has volunteered at Battered Women’s Support Services and done two practicums around women, children and youth experiencing violence. Following her bachelor of social work from the University of Victoria, she will study expressive arts therapy at Langara College.

“I feel this program is going to be an amazing melding of things that are dear to my heart,” she says.

“One of my goals is to bring back the skills and tools I learn to my community and inspire them to live the best lives possible, do that deep healing that we don’t really know how to do, that arts have a way of connecting with parts of people that are buried deep inside from trauma and being harmed.”

Blake Hawkins, Pride Youth Scholarship

(Derek Bedry/Daily Xtra)

Growing up in northern BC, Blake Hawkins had few queer-friendly health services he could reach.

“When you come down to Vancouver there’s so many services, it’s just remarkable compared to northern BC, where there’s absolutely nothing,” he says.

For his master’s thesis in library and information services at the University of British Columbia, Hawkins studied health information-seeking behaviours of LGBT youth in Prince George.

“There was a document written by the Northern Health Authority on men’s health with just like one paragraph that says: ‘there’s gay men in northern BC, we just don’t know anything about them.’

“To some extent that’s the stance the health authority has taken,” he says, “so my defiant self, I decided to go up there for seven months to do this.”

Hawkins studied what made youth choose to seek out certain services or abandon particular searches.

Hawkins is giving his research to the Pride Centre at the University of Northern British Columbia “so they can use it to justify more funding.”

“The purpose in doing my work is so the people can benefit from it,” he says.

Jaedyn Starr, Little Sister’s Scholarship

(Derek Bedry/Daily Xtra)

With trans children just beginning to have their rights recognized in schools, Jaedyn Starr wants to ensure that non-binary students have mentors.

There has been “a lot of movement toward diversity and inclusion toward gender and sexual minorities in schools,” Starr says, “but I think we’re lacking a presence of adults and role models who show it’s safe to be open about our identities.”

Starr, who wants to be a K-12 teacher, sits on the Vancouver park board’s trans and gender-variant committee, and the board of the frank theatre company. 

“A lot of youth may not be familiar with gender as a spectrum and the diverse identities that are available to identify with,” Starr says. “Having people in schools who don’t identify with binary gender is a tangible, accessible reminder of the gender diversity that exists in society and can exist in schools.”

Maddi Goodman, Pride Youth Scholarship

(Derek Bedry/Daily Xtra)

When 17-year-old Maddi Goodman was homophobically harassed and sought support services in her hometown of Maple Ridge, she came up empty handed.

“That led to me trying to really desperately connect to my teachers and find the resources around me — like what is really around me that I can use? And I found that in Vancouver there’s lots, but in Maple Ridge, they just weren’t there,” she says.

“I think the exposure to the bullying I’ve experienced and my friends have experienced has really contributed to me feeling like, hey, this is really messed up and I’m angry about it, but I don’t want to just be angry, I want to do something,” she says.

Goodman worked to bring those services within reach for her friends and other Maple Ridge residents. That meant facilitating workshops with Qmunity’s GAB Youth program and pushing her school district for gender-neutral washrooms and anti-bullying measures.

Goodman will soon head to the University of Ottawa to study political science with a minor in gender studies, and an eye on a career in law and politics.

“I think people are accustomed to a way of doing things, and change makes them fearful and scared,” she says. “I think that fear turns into hate, and this divides our communities. I think by educating our population — as well as doing so in a compassionate and loving way without attacking — that’s a way we can move past that.”

LOUD recipients Kara Taylor, Alison Montminy and Daniel Almeida couldn’t attend the ceremony.

Editor’s note, June 16, 2016: This article was updated to correctly reflect AJ MacLeod’s experience leaving home.

This story is filed under News & Ideas, Youth, Vancouver