As the holiday season begins and the year draws to an end, we often find ourselves taking stock and thinking of ways we can give back — not least because this is the season when so many people ask us to give.
All the requests for money can be overwhelming, but I was raised to know the importance of giving back to the greater community. My family took a little envelope of cash to our Catholic church every Sunday, and my parents always encouraged my siblings and me to find opportunities to volunteer.
Ultimately, the church wasn’t where I felt I should be giving my time or money. When I was starting to come out at age 16, I decided to volunteer at the AIDS Committee of Toronto.
The tasks were varied — data entry, cold calls, condom stuffing, manning the green room at the AIDS Walk — but the best part for me was having an excuse to come to the Village and meet gay people for the first time.
As I became a part of the community, I found myself benefiting from other queer organizations.
It was at the 519 Community Centre’s youth group that I first met other out gay kids. I would continue going to LGBYT for the next year, and I’ve enjoyed events and community meetings at The 519 ever since.
Later, when I was starting my career as a performer, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre offered youth open mics, mentoring, performance spaces and invitations to shows.
Embarking on an arts career didn’t quickly put me in a position where I could make huge cash donations to charities that have benefited me personally, let alone the hundreds of other worthy causes I could donate to across Canada and overseas, but I always try to give when I can in ways that I can.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to contribute to charities, the queer community has dozens of worthwhile organizations to which your cash can make a big difference — even small monthly donations of $10 to $50. If you’re not so lucky, there are plenty of ways you can give back to the community.
Volunteer: there is always work to be done. Offer up an afternoon or evening per week or month stuffing envelopes or manning telephones for a good cause. If you think you can make a deeper or long-term contribution, join a board or a committee. Your work will help keep an organization going.
Use your friends: if you’re throwing a holiday party, consider asking your friends to make a donation at the door or tell your friends you’d prefer donations to a worthy cause in lieu of gifts. You didn’t really want that fruitcake, anyway.
Shop in the community: spread the holiday joy a little further by doubling up your holiday presents with investments in the community. Groups like Buddies and Youth Line throw holiday art auctions where you can find great gifts for your loved ones. Or consider buying tickets to a show at Buddies or an Inside Out screening for your friends — ticket sales are one of the most important ways queer arts organizations survive, and they make terrific gifts.
Often when we think of philanthropy, we think of huge cash donations from a handful of wealthy people who name buildings after themselves. But those donations go only so far. The heavy lifting of community building is done by thousands of people contributing what they can, to build the world they want.
This holiday season, do what you can to build the queer community you want.