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YWCA honours Amanda Dale

Toronto activist works with women who have experienced violence

Amanda Dale and Anja Kessler have been married twice. Credit: Amanda Dale
Amanda Dale is worried about her speech. It’s meant to be only two minutes, but the social justice advocate has too many people to thank. She quotes Mark Twain to express her nerves: “I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one.”
 
Dale’s extensive career has, perhaps, led to this moment. The May 2 event — what she calls “the Academy Awards of feminism” — will honour Dale and six other women for, not their acting, but their activism. Dale and her colleagues are to be honoured as Women of Distinction by the YWCA of Toronto, a recognition for some of the city’s most dedicated activists of female well-being.
 
“It’s an exciting sorority for me to have been made part of,” she says, though she concedes the honour comes with a lot of pressure. “It’s a little bit daunting. The drama queen in me thinks I’m going to rise to the occasion and shake my hair and say, ‘Of course, shine the light on me!’ But underneath that, when it actually happened to me, it made me kind of the opposite.”
 
The honour humbled the 51-year-old Torontonian and helped her take stock of what the recognition means for her career. “The most important insight is that this is not an award for a career — this is an award for a movement, and I’ve been selected to represent that movement this time.”
 
Dale’s history in this movement began when she was a schoolgirl in Toronto’s North York. Though she ended up enjoying the sport for only a short period of time, Dale says she and a friend “risked expulsion” to play soccer with the boys. “I had this child’s sense of justice about it,” she says. “I remember that being an awakening of sorts.”
 
Today, as executive director at the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, Dale leads a team that provides legal support, counselling and language interpretation for women who have experienced violence. One of her proudest moments was the clinic’s recent constitutional challenge to changes in Canadian gun laws that have loosened long-gun registry. The case will be heard in June 2014.
 
But perhaps her biggest achievement is a personal one: Dale has been with her partner, Anja Kessler, for 20 years. They’ve been married twice. The first time — the one she calls the “illegal wedding” — was the big one. The second wedding, timed with the potential squashing of gay marriage in Canada, was the one that fits so perfectly with her advocate spirit. The pair married that time to ensure their part in a class-action Charter fight. Thankfully, no such fight was needed.
 
“It’s something I’m very proud of because I’ve been able to build a solid relationship despite living through a period of more overt cultural homophobia, and despite having grown up without any open role models of how to do that.”
 

Through exploring life and love in this Xtra interview, Dale might just have written her speech. Now she knows who to thank.