Three women from Vancouver’s queer community will be in the running this year as the YWCA presents its annual Women of Distinction awards May 26.
The awards, which began in 1984, recognize women whose work enriches and empowers their communities.
The Community Champion award goes to a woman who has created meaningful change through full-time dedication to a cause. Claire Robson (pictured above) has been blending social activism with memoir and other writing to create spaces for marginalized voices since she first founded a women’s reading group in 1989. Currently, her work centres on LGBT seniors.
Through her work with the Queer Imaging & Riting Kollective for Elders (Quirk-e) and BOLDfest, Robson has given the aging queer community a platform to share their stories. Her latest project, Call & Response, brings together queer youth and seniors to share their experiences.
Despite her years of work, the recognition was unexpected. “The change I do tends to be very subtle,” she tells Daily Xtra. “This kind of work kind of ripples out quietly.”
Also nominated for the Community Champion award is Barb Snelgrove (above).
Snelgrove began volunteering for the Vancouver Pride Society 17 years ago, tackling everything from marketing to media. During her time on the board, the Pride parade grew from 30,000 to an estimated 200,000 attendees.
Now, she uses her platform as the owner and media consultant at megamouthmedia to raise awareness for the LGBT community on a wide range of topics. Her goal is to create a healthier, unified and growing community, she says. She also continues to work with a number of Vancouver’s LGBT organizations, and sits on the city’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee and the police department’s Diversity Advisory Committee.
Of her nomination, Snelgrove says she feels humbled to be placed alongside the other nominees.
“There are so many people out there doing incredible work to better their respective communities. It is inspiring to see all the shared passion, women who saw a need and wanted to help and so rolled up their sleeves and ‘got ’er done,’” she says.
Michelle Fortin (above) is in the running for the Non-profit or Public Service award.
For more than 20 years, Fortin has been with Watari counselling and support services working to create safe spaces for street-involved families and youth. Now, as executive director, she helps create programming to serve the most vulnerable members of our communities and advocates for change on a provincial level.
Fortin also served the queer community as the director of Vancouver’s Dyke March society for four years, and sat on its board of directors for another two years as well.
“I’m very honoured that my board of directors would consider nominating me,” she says. “It’s a recognition that I’m on the right track, that the work that I’m doing — I’ve always known it has value, but to have the external validation is always nice. Not necessary, but nice.”