4 min

Ottawa youth group Etc marches on

Former branch of Capital Pride is now autonomous, has big Pride plans

Lyra Evans (left) and Adrian Witol run Etc Youth, an organization run by and for LGBT and allied youth. Credit: Adrienne Ascah

While the former Capital Pride organization struggled and then declared bankruptcy, its youth programming quietly continued, thanks to two local youth.

In this edited interview, Lyra Evans and Adrian Witol talk about how they led Etc Youth, the youth branch of the former Capital Pride, into an autonomous organization separate from the former and new Capital Pride. They also have details of the upcoming Pride Prom.

Daily Xtra: After last year’s Pride festival, Capital Pride said there’d been accounting irregularities. There were acrimonious AGMs and, eventually, the organization declared bankruptcy. What made the two of you decide to keep Etc going throughout this upheaval?

Adrian Witol: I think we found with the population we serve that people really need our services and we were filling a gap that needed to be filled. People wanted to stay on, wanted to keep going, so we were motivated to pull through.

Lyra Evans: The people who we serve needed the spaces that we provide and access to things because a lot of events and spaces aren’t designed for queer and trans youth.

What gave you the conviction to power through all the controversy?

Evans: I felt like it was really important. I used Etc services for a number of years. I thought it was really important to my building of community and my becoming a part of knowing other people who were like me. I feel like it’s very important that we keep this service running for other people who haven’t had this opportunity yet. 

How do you identify?

Evans: I’m a binary trans woman and I often see that my identity is under-represented both in the people who organize and in the attendance, so I really strive to make space as safe as possible.

In terms of logistics, did you need the structure of Capital Pride behind you in order to continue offering services like Cafe Q?

Evans: No. Etc Youth ran mostly autonomously for the years when we were part of Capital Pride. They would allocate some of the money and then we would design our own programming and run our own stuff. When Capital Pride went bankrupt, we didn’t lose a lot beyond funding.

You had a pre-existing relationship with Kind (formerly PTS)?

Witol: They support us with location, a place to hold a lot of our programming.

Evans: We have four or five major branches of programming and Kind helps us with two of them — Cafe Q and peer counselling. Our other programming is offered elsewhere. We offer a youth choir on the [University of Ottawa] campus.

What did you do when your funding was running out?

Witol: For a long time we ran on just donations. We had support from two local bakeries and a Starbucks that provided us with baked goods. It’s important to us that all of our programming is free and provides food and drinks. For eight months we went with no funding at all, but that was difficult. There were things we needed funding for. Our first funding came from the PROMdemonium grant in the spring. More recently we got a grant from the CHEO Dare to Dream fund.

Did you consider reaching out to the new Capital Pride to get help or support for your programming?

Evans: We sent them an email that went unanswered.

Witol: Whoever was in charge of their informative email was on vacation for awhile, so eventually we managed to get to them through another contact just to get [Pride Prom] on the [Capital Pride] website because we know a lot of people come to us through the Pride Prom. It’s our biggest event. I think after having run Etc Youth completely on our own and having gotten our own funding, I think we really appreciated what it meant to be entirely by and for youth. That’s important to people who use our services, that it’s really by and for them.

For people who don’t know, what is the Pride Prom?

Witol: The Pride Prom is an opportunity for youth from LGBTQ+ communities to get a safe and affirming prom experience that they might not get from their schools.

Evans: Many schools have rules against bringing [same-sex dates]. The Catholic board has rules against bringing people of the same gender to a dance. Even in [non-Catholic schools], there might not be written rules against it, but there’s social rules against it. We have a very “bring whoever you want or bring no one” policy. It’s very much a choice for the people who attend — how they want to present, who they want to bring.

Witol: People can dress and express themselves however they want in a way that might not feel safe at school events.

[In an email to Daily Xtra, a media spokesperson for the Ottawa Catholic School Board said, “We don’t have a policy against [same-sex dates]. A same-sex couple is able to attend a school-sanctioned dance . . . To my knowledge, we have never had a policy [banning same-sex couples at school dances] on the books.”

Since you value Etc’s autonomy, you’re not considering trying to join the new Capital Pride?

Evans: We’ve made partnerships with a handful of other organizations in Ottawa, so we would much rather move forward with incorporation and become a full-on, not-for-profit than shackle ourselves to another organization where we wouldn’t be autonomous.

Do you have a timeline for incorporation?

Evans: The fall is what we’re looking at.

Witol: After our Pride programming, because that’s the biggest drain on our time and resources. We’ll be moving forward a lot more quickly [in the fall], but who knows how long it will take.

Anything else you’d like to mention about Etc?

Evans: One of our goals with Etc is there seems to be a lot of bickering and drama in the adult community and we really don’t want to subject youth to that. It would be really nice if we could work with any organizations that want to work with us without them getting upset that we’re working with someone that they might not have a great working relationship with.