Today we celebrate the strides we’ve made and continue to make toward some semblance of justice and equity. We acknowledge that many of our sisters—Black and Indigenous women, trans women—have decreased access to those things. We honour the fierce people who work and fight to lift us up.
Each person in this list contributes to Toronto’s queer communities, women’s communities, trans communities, immigrant communities, Indigenous communities and communities of colour in ways that are vital to our survival.
As a gay girl and a survivor, I have to open this by talking about a dynamic and inspiring power duo with a love story for the ages: Farrah Khan and Kristyn Wong-Tam.
Farrah Khan’s voice was a beacon for those of us who felt triggered during the media frenzy surrounding the Ghomeshi trial. With campaigns such as #WeBelieveSurvivors and #ConsentComesFirst as well as this amazing colouring book, Khan reminds us that we are not alone. She gives a public face to painful issues and works daily to combat rape culture, misogyny and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Advocacy and support for survivors have been the focus of Khan’s career. She’s currently the Coordinator of Ryerson’s Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education.
Khan sits as co-chair of Ontario’s first Roundtable on Violence Against Women.
Kristyn Wong-Tam’s compassion is as striking as her zeal.
Wong-Tam was compelled to enter Toronto politics after late Mayor Rob Ford made derogatory comments about Asian people. A fierce advocate for Asian people, immigrants, women and Toronto’s LGBTQ community, Wong-Tam became Ford’s greatest adversary.
Led by Wong-Tam, Council passed a motion for a gender-responsive budget, or GRB, last summer. But it was dropped in last month’s budget vote. Mayor Tory voted against it.
Wong-Tam is working with Indigenous leaders to build Canada’s first Indigenous business district. She started the project six years ago and is making headway. The Huffington Post reported that “Wong-Tam recently secured a site with over 13,000 sq. ft. at the downtown corner of Jarvis and Dundas.”
Cheri DiNovo has devoted her life to the cause. DiNovo told Vv in November that her activism started in the 1970s at the dawn of gay liberation in Canada.
“Forty-five years ago I was the only woman in Canada at the first then-called gay demo on Parliament Hill to ask for rights, period. And then the same year actually—‘71 was a big year—was the very first Pride.” DiNovo said. She performed the first legal same-sex wedding ceremony in Canada in 2001. And DiNovo officiated Farrah Khan and Kristyn Wong-Tam’s wedding last summer.
Susan Gapka lost everything and everyone in the 1980s and spent a decade living on the street. She got out and has since made tremendous strides toward systemic improvement.
Gapka told the Toronto Star in 2013 that she is a “systems survivor,” which means she’s survived multiple systemic obstacles that were all but guaranteed to knock her down. Still standing, Gapka founded such critical organizations as the Trans Lobby Group and the Rainbow Health Network, all while achieving outstanding academic success at George Brown and York University.
Akio Maroon was elected to the Pride Toronto board in January. It’s a timely development given the vitriol leveled against Black Lives Matter on the part of a somewhat shocking number of people in Toronto’s LGBTQ community.
Maroon is exceedingly qualified for the role. And one has to ask—though one knows exactly—why Pride took so long to get there. Maroon is a force to be reckoned with in the struggles for women’s rights, consent culture, trans-and POC-inclusivity within queer communities, equitable treatment of sex trade workers and Black-and- Indigenous liberation.
Maroon sits on the provincial Roundtable on Violence Against Women.
Rebecca Benson has accomplished a phenomenal amount for someone in her twenties. Or for anyone, for that matter. She’s a femme Two-Spirit Iroquois advocate for Indigenous and LGBTQ rights and for women and youth.
Benson spoke as part of a CBC The Current panel on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIW) about two weeks ago. She’s funny, engaging, and speaks truth to power in a way that few will.
Benson points out in the interview that a significant number of transgender Indigenous women have gone missing. Their names haven’t been included in the official counts. She says that “Two-Spirit folks are missing entirely from the language of the INAC inquiry website.”
Benson heads Indigenous programs for Egale Canada.
The first political action Kavita Dogra organized was held on International Women’s Day in 2011. Dogra was hooked. And she knew she had more work to do, so she started an organization called We Talk Women which seeks to promote discourse.
Dogra also organized the Toronto women’s march. I caught up with her on that topic in January. The bottom line? “The fear in Canada is that people will now feel that they can do the same thing and incite hate and misogyny and that that will be acceptable. And it’s not,” Dogra said.
While there’s a lot to celebrate, the work and these struggles are instructive. It’s time we try to emulate these fierce advocates.
*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that Akio Maroon was the first black person to sit on the Toronto Pride Board. The piece has been adjusted to reflect correct details.
Are there any other advocates that should be on this list? Let Vv Magazine know in the comment section or tweet us at @ViewtheVibe.