In celebration of Pride Month, York University’s Office of Alumni Engagement reached out to a few alumni to gather their thoughts on what Pride Month means to them.
Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes (Hon. LLD '09)
“Pride is an amazing opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of the LGBTQ+ community and to be reminded how much more work still needs to be done. This is an important time for LGBTQ+ people and our allies to show solidarity and make new friends.”
Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes, C.M., a native of Bath, New Brunswick and Mount Allison University graduate, received his Masters of Divinity from Trinity College, University of Toronto as well as a Doctorate of Ministry. In 2009, York University presented Rev. Hawkes with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree for his continuing work in activism and human rights in Canada.
In 2001, Rev. Dr. Hawkes performed the first legal same sex marriage anywhere in the world. In 2007 he was appointed the Order of Canada for his stand on Social Justice and Human Rights within the LGBTQ communities, the highest award a country has bestowed on a gay activist. Also in 2011, Rev. Dr. Hawkes presided at the state funeral for the Honourable Jack Layton, Leader of Canada's Opposition.
Rev. Dr. Hawkes’ was integral in the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act and gives service to the community by advocating LGTBQ rights, mentorship, creating awareness and facilitating spirituality.
Rev. Dr. Hawkes, who is distinguished for his leadership in several human rights initiatives, was the Senior Pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto for 40 years. Amidst his community involvement Rev. Dr. Hawkes lives happily with his husband of 36 years, John Sproule, in Toronto, Canada.
Susan Gapka (BA ’09)
"Pride is a good reason to celebrate our success, to appreciate all the work that our elders have done, and to recognize that there’s still a lot to do. Find your niche, find your area of passion - something that your good at - and you too can make a difference in your own life and the lives of others."
Susan Gapka is a dedicated campaigner for social justice highlighting her record on affordable housing, homelessness, mental health, harm reduction & lesbian, gay, bisexual & trans issues since coming out as a community leader almost 20 years ago.
As founder and chair of the Trans Lobby Group Susan helped lead a lengthy campaign to persuade the Minister of Health to fund Sex Reassignment Surgery for trans people in Ontario, helped change the Vital Statistics Act sex designation so that trans people's legal documents more accurately reflect their lived identity, and amended the Ontario Human Rights Code to include 'gender identity' and 'gender expression'.
Susan has served on the Toronto Local Advisory Committee & as Toronto representative on the National Consumer Panel of the At Home/Chez Soi Research Demonstration Project, the Housing Component for the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
She also served on the Board of Pride Toronto which hosted World Pride 2014 and is past Fierté Canada Pride's Central Regional Director for Ontario.
Susan has been employed at The 519 since 2015 in the Education Department as an Education and Training facilitator. She was elected to CUPE Ontario Pink Triangle Committee in December 2017 and appointed to CUPE National Pink Triangle Committee in January 2018. In May 2018, Gapka became the first transgender person to be given the key to the city in Toronto.
Susan has a degree in Political Science from York University & a diploma in Community Work from George Brown College.
Zoya Zayler (BAS ’04, MBA '10)
Inclusion & Diversity Lead, Accenture Canada
"For me, Pride Month is important because, unfortunately, there are still challenges for the LGBTQ community—even in Canada where we’ve done a lot to make sure that we are inclusive. There are still unconscious biases that exist in workplaces and in the community as a whole. This month gives us an opportunity to focus on the LGBTQ community, and with that dedicated focus comes a lot of extra insight on additional actions we can all take to disrupt bias and promote inclusion."
Zoya Zayler leads Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) for Accenture Canada. In this role, she drives Accenture’s long-term I&D strategy and provides the senior leadership team with strategic direction to achieve Accenture’s I&D goals. Prior to this role she was part of Accenture’s global I&D Center of Expertise, where she managed the global strategy on LGBT inclusion. Zayler is passionate about fostering inclusion, ensuring equality and celebrating uniqueness. She is a strong advocate for I&D and strives to raise awareness about its impact on high performance.
Zayler’s background is in Human Resources, where she spent 7 years in various progressive roles at Accenture before specializing in I&D. Prior to joining Accenture, she was an HR consultant in France and in India. Zayler holds an International MBA from the Schulich School of Business and is a Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL).
Dr. Philip Jai Johnson (BA ’04, MA '05)
"Pride month remains an important recognition as our community moves from being accepted to celebrated. As we observe the passage of history, our society has only recently recognized the rights of LGBTQ people. We need to remember the work that was done to get here, such as the stonewall riots that served as a major catalyst for the movement for LGBTQ equality."
Dr. Philip Jai Johnson is a Clinical Psychologist who works in private practice at the Toronto Sexuality Centre, focusing on couples and sex therapy. This includes dealing with issues such sexual functioning difficulties (e.g., difficulties with desire, arousal, and orgasm), body image, and LGBTQ mental health. He describes his work as helping people make their sexual experiences more empowering, affirming, and enjoyable, and improving their overall well-being.
Dr. Johnson graduated from York University in 2004 with a BA Honours in Psychology and then completed an MA in Humanities in 2005. After finishing his studies at York, he went on to complete a M.Sc. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Calgary, a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at McGill University. He then completed two post-doctoral fellowships in sex therapy and LGBTQ mental health at two world renowned institutions: The Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota and the Program for the Study of LGBT Health at Columbia University in NYC.
Amy Saunders (BA ’13)
CEO and Founder of AlphaPR
"Pride is a political time for me. Our path to a better future is determined by our continued tenacity; I believe that only with the master’s tools can we dismantle the master’s house - like we began to do when we threw the first brick at Stonewall. My identity as a queer woman is integral to my survival, my success, and my evolution."
Amy Saunders is the CEO and founder of AlphaPR, an innovative PR and Creative Communication Systems firm based in Toronto, Canada. AlphaPR focuses on elevating stories by and for women and LGBT+ in the arts and entertainment industries. AlphaPR has worked with the now-popular feminist music festival Venus Fest, and Canadian box office hit at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Slut or Nut: Diary of a Rape Trial. Saunders currently studies Innovation at the Masters level where she tests new methods of communication processes for innovative business and communication design. Amy is also a published poet, short essayist, and reporter, writing on various themes including politics, sexuality, decolonization and economy.
Saunders graduated from York University with a BA Hons. in Critical Sexuality Studies, Women’s Studies Cert., 2013 where Saunders founded the Wendy Babcock Bursary Award, a financial bursary for students engaged with various forms of sex work while studying at Women’s Studies and Gender Issues at York University.
Lucy Gallo (MSW ’16)
Program Manager, Egale Youth OUTreach
"Pride celebrates us. It's the time that I feel the most safe and connected in my identity. It gives me a sense of wholeness and happiness. We have a lot to celebrate and acknowledge. A week isn't enough time; we need to take up a little more space."
Lucy Gallo has worked in the mental health field for over 15 years. As a social worker at Anishnawbe Health and then at Alternatives, The East York Mental Health Counselling Agency, she has provided a range of services to people including: short and long term counselling, advocacy and crisis management. She has also provided individual and group counselling at St. Michael’s Hospital in suicidal studies as well as being a Clinical Counsellor at the University of Toronto in the Faculty of Medicine.
In 2017, after working as a relief Clinical Counsellor at Egale Youth OUTreach Lucy moved into her current role as Program Manager at EYO. In the year since she has become a manager she has helped restructure operating hours which has made EYO programs more accessible, programs have grown, the staffing compliment has doubled and EYO is continuing to build partnerships with other agencies and organizations. She feels lucky to be working with a creative and talented team at Egale Youth OUTreach and looks forward to future growth as an organization as well as personally by deepening her managerial skills through training.
When she is not at EYO Lucy is raising two active and playful children aged 3 and 7. She enjoys walks at the beach and being able to laugh with her partner and friends.