INSPIRE Awards are pleased to announce the recipients and nominees for the 2017 season.

Lifetime Achievement Awards

Debbie Douglas is the Executive Director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. Ms. Douglas is the recipient of several awards including the Women of Distinction from YWCA Toronto; the Amino Malko award from the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture; the Race Relations award from the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and more recently the Frances Lankin Community Service Award for 2016. A well-known face in Ontario and across the country, Ms. Douglas is often called upon by governments to share her expertise. She was a member of the provinces’ Expert Panel on Immigration which published the report Routes to Success and led to the province’s first immigration legislation enacted in the Spring of 2015. Ms. Douglas was also recently appointed to the provincial working group on income security.
J. Andrew Baker is an educator, administrator, artist, counsellor, and activist from Simcoe County, Ontario, Canada. Andrew currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland where is works as the Senior Development Officer for ILGA. For the past 20 years, he focused his career and volunteer work within Indigenous and LGBT communities. He has extensive development experience founding three LGBT organizations in Canada and implementing over 10 Indigenous Programs in Ontario. In the past five years, he has raised over 2 million dollars towards LGBT and Indigenous initiatives. Andrew worked as the Rainbow Health Ontario Community Outreach Worker for the North Simcoe Muskoka Region from 2008 to 2014, and he was a founding member of the Simcoe County LGBTQ Network. Currently, Andrew is the Vice President of Governance for Fierté Canada Pride, the Past President of Fierté Simcoe Pride and the Vice President of Operations (male-identified) at InterPride. He also works as a faculty member in Indigenous Studies at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario, Canada.

Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award

Chris Edwards (Criss Edwards) was born in Fort Worth, Texas on December 24, 1961. In the early 80's he started in the artform of female impersonation, perfecting his craft in Fort Lauderdale and catching the eye of producers who brought him to Canada for "An Evening At La Cage". It was here in Toronto that Chris made his home and his fame. In the late 80's, Chris Edwards' weekly show at "Chaps" became a staple of members of our LGBTQ2 family, often having a lineup all the way to Yonge St. He also created Miss Gay Toronto/ Miss Gay Universe pageants as a platform for many of Toronto's top entertainers that still is a running tradition to this day. In his lifetime, the PWA Organization estimated that he single handedly raised over $ 300,000.00 for HIV/AIDS related causes. His infectious laugh and sense of humor are the attributes that people miss the most. Sadly, on Aug 26, 2016, during a performance at Buddies Chris collapsed, and passed away on September 6. He leaves behind a legacy of love and generosity that all of us in Toronto's Gay community should emulate. Although gone, he will never be forgotten.

Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award

Glen Wesley Brown grew up on the Prairies, raised in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan within a farming family. Upon coming to Toronto in the late 1980s, he very quickly became a central figure in the Toronto LBTQ community including as a pioneering activist with AIDS Action Now! Over almost 30 years, he was a central figure in the HIV/AIDS sector as an advocate, organizational leader and advisor. Glen also served as interim Executive Director for a number of important community organizations, including the AIDS Committee of Toronto and Pride Toronto. He has been widely credited with helping such organizations successfully transition through challenging times. Glen co-founded the Program Consultants Network of Toronto, a network of consultants advising and supporting important not-for-profit organizations across Ontario and Canada. He ultimately moved into leadership role in the environmental sector as a director and ultimately Chair of the Board of Greenpeace Canada. Glen was a tremendous friend, colleague and mentor to many.

International Icon 

 Omar Sharif Jr. is the grandson of actor and international star, Omar Sharif. Omar is an actor, model, activist, and from 2013 to 2015, he was the National Spokesperson for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). He is referred to as “the first public personality to ever come out as openly gay in the Arab World.” His announcement led to widespread criticism and threats of violence. Omar spoke up in a world where it is dangerous to speak up.

LUX Award for the Arts

Aiyyana Maracle was many things to so many people, including being a multi-disciplinary artist, an accomplished writer, an award-winning theatre artist, an opera director, a visual artist, a scholar, educator, and a great-grandma 4-times over; and a sovereign Haudenosaunee woman. For half-a-century, Aiyyana was actively involved with the merging of Ogwehoweh art and culture into the Euro-centric world and consciousness that surrounds us. She was insistent that this inclusion into Canadian society be done with dignity and respect. Through all her work Aiyyana has offered an alternate framework to the prevalent Euro-centric view of ‘gender dysphoria’. Her work is beautiful, complex, deeply meaningful and essential for future generations of artists and activists. Categorized as a male at birth, the Haudenosaunee grandmother began her gender transformation after her last divorce at age 40. Born on Six Nations, Maracle returned to her birthplace to build a home with her adult son and his wife, after years of being estranged from her family. Of that she said “In the last few years I’ve reordered my perception of family from something that had been a terrible thing and something that I wasn’t a part of for most of my life. I now have not just my son, I now have my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and nieces and nephews. It has allowed me to come back to a positive place in terms of relationship with family.” On April 24, 2016, Aiyyana Maracle passed on surrounded by her loving family and friends.On April 24, 2016, Aiyyana Maracle passed on surrounded by her loving family and friends.

Charles Roy Award for Activism in HIV/AIDS

Alphonso King Jr. is originally from Tampa, Florida. Alphonso is probably best known in Toronto as DJ Relentless or Jade Elektra. Both personas are synonymous with fundraising and HIV awareness. He and his husband, John Richard Allan have spent the past 5 years producing events aimed at helping fight the stigma of living with HIV/AIDS and raising money to help the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation. He also was a contributor to Canada's But Alphonso's philanthropy started back in New York City when he started working with The Gay Men's Health Crisis, The Harvey Milk School of NYC and Our Youth (NJ). Believing that working with our youth was very important, Alphonso would volunteer to spin for youth dances and their floats in the Pride parade. Upon moving to Toronto in late 2009, Alphonso noticed that there were no bar events for the HIV+ Community and set out to create POZ-TO (a monthly social event where people could connect, make new friends or even date while being out about their status). Over the years, POZ-TO has not only raised money for PWA, but also for AIDS Committee Toronto, Support Our Youth, Casey House, Durham AIDS Region, Black CAP, Toronto Latinos Positivos, The Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention and Out-N-Poz. Whether it's behind the DJ booth or in a dress, Alphonso has worked hard to be a visible HIV+ person making a difference in Toronto's LGBT Community. POZ-TO now holds a new monthly event called DADDY ISSUES at Striker Sports Bar on the first Sunday of each month where he features local DJs who donate their talents to continue raise money for PWA with a fun T-Dance.

LGBTQ Innovator of the Year Award

Jeanette Stock is an accomplished advocate in the LGBTQ tech space and a fast rising star at Pressly, a Toronto-based startup. She was selected for the prestigious Venture for Canada Fellowship program, a 2-year program that promotes entrepreneurship through working in high growth tech startups. She currently is in customer development at Pressly, focused on making better content for enterprises. Outside of her professional life, Jeanette is an accomplished LGBTQ community builder. She started her activism formally by managing social media for Out on Bay Street, Canada's largest LGBT recruiting conference. After a year on the team, she joined the founding team of Venture Out, Canada's first LGBTQ tech summit, as its founding Chair. Her work with Venture Out makes her stand out as one to watch because it shows her dedication to the community and ability to make an impact. Under her leadership, the Summit went from zero to 30 sponsors (and counting), including Facebook and various government entities. The programming has taken shape to be empowering to would-be LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and encouraging education for LGBTQ people who want to work in startups, meaning her impact will be far greater than just hosting a summit; her work has the potential to literally change the face of LGBTQ inclusion in tech and entrepreneurship in Canada. Did we mention she did this all in the span of only 5 months, starting with no budget and no team? Incredible work!

LGBTQ Person of the Year - Nominees

Christine Newman has been an advocate for the LGBTQ community for the past 35 years, founding organizations and sitting on boards of directors. She is an advocate for mental health issues, as well as a writer-editor-featured columnist for a number of publications and can be heard as a regular panelist on some radio shows. She currently spends much time delivering guest lectures at Ryerson University and U of T, drawing from her own life experiences to educate students on issues faced by the Trans communities, and works with police across Canada on training and building bridges with their communities. She currently serves as the first trans Civilian co-chair for the LGBTQ CCC and is a past board member of the INSPIRE Awards.
Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto, a local events and productions company responsible for integrating people of diverse backgrounds at community parties and charity fundraisers. As an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion for the art of writing to promote equality, tolerance, and social/political justice, Joey has jumped from beyond the pages of local LGBTQ magazines and online blogs to vocalize his discontent for prejudices that live within Toronto's LGBTQ village and city wide. With his contributions to media columns and online blogs, and his personal yet opinionated social handles, Joey is not afraid to be a young, proud voice in a quietting, suppressive society.
Taswayne Brown known to many as KingAdé is a young, outgoing, Black, Gay man who grew up in Jamaica where expressing his sexuality was met with biblical challenges and homophobia. In 2009 Taswayne came to Toronto to attend University; and upon completion of his studies, decided to make this city that is more fitting to his ambitions and outgoing personality his New Home where he unabashedly lives his life out loud while inspiring people by living his truth. In Toronto, Taswayne has been using his love of people; his influence and platform (As immigrant from the Caribbean, LGBT, HIV activist and co-owner of Miss Opulence Toronto) to not only better himself, but to inspire young Black Gay youths from different walks of life to be themselves. Taswayne lives by the saying “You are not the pain of your past nor the mistakes of your present, you are the dreams that you dream of a better future”. It is in that spirit he challenges others to question their views of a rapidly changing world; to not allow their past to hold them back; but push beyond their safety zones so they too can realize their true potential; live their best lives.
Morgan James has been an LGBTQ activist on and off the stage for over 20 years. Her community involvement ranges from being an early advocate for same-sex marriage to working with the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada providing safe, affordable, inclusive housing for LGBTQ individuals and being involved on the Project Team that in 2016 resulted in the first Canadian health plan making life insurance available to people living with HIV. While acting as a mentor for LGBT youth and working with organization across Canada and the USA Morgan James still found time to hold titles at the local, national and international levels including being the only person (to date) to win the title of Miss International Pride twice. While living in the Philippines Morgan assisted in raising money and items for local orphanages, planted trees to revive areas devastated by typhoons and volunteered with a hospice for seniors abandoned by their families. Here at home Morgan recently held the position of Empress of TICOT raising almost $50,000 that was distributed to the Food Programs of The Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA), Rainbow Railroad, The 519 and The Emperor I Sergio Apolloni Memorial Scholarship awarded through The Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies at The University of Toronto.
Avery Pitcher is a long-time community advocate. A sexual assault survivor herself at the age of 8 years old, Avery has spent years wondering how she could build a safe environment where women can share their stories with other women, a place where they can shed the shame, blame and pain of the past. Avery founded Damselfly Anon (DFA) an anonymous online subscription-driven not for profit organization designed for the specific purpose of giving women a voice to create change. By building a virtual retreat women can easily and anonymously reveal their truth, they can unburden themselves and safely contribute to a pool of real statistics. Avery has been working on this project for two years, and most recently spent four months working with a focus group of 28 women to get input on this enormous undertaking. In her career and community work, Avery was the owner of Hair n After, the first salon in Canada to maintain non-gender pricing at the time, as well she was the Chairperson for Church Wellesley BIA for a four year term.

LGBTQ Youth of the Year - Nominees

Erin Edghill Erin is a 21-year-old social justice activist and community worker. They began their activism as a grade 12 student at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School where they, along with friends, started and co-lead the school’s first ever Gay-Straight-Alliance. While running the GSA they found Supporting Our Youth (SOY). At SOY they discovered the value and importance of community in SOY's Alphabet Soup Program, and a voice through their anti-oppression and leadership training­­; SOY H.E.A.T.. After spending more than two years commuting from Scarborough to downtown Toronto to participate in these programs, they were inspired to begin learning about the non-profit sector in order to create better access to services for those outside of the downtown core. They strongly believed that no student should have to leave class early in order to be with others like themselves. Since graduating high school, they have completed Studio [Y], an 8-month fellowship in social innovation and systems change, become a workshop facilitator, worked for Pride Toronto doing site logistics, and have delivered public talks to numerous service providers, parents, and youth about creating safer spaces for Queer and Trans youth. They are now a student in the Community Worker Program at George Brown College, and through their classes (and community-based placements at both Pride Toronto and Supporting Our Youth) they hope to continue to broaden their knowledge of the community and to build the necessary skill set for making meaningful change in the Queer and Trans community. In 2016, they were the recipient of the Positive Space Award at George Brown College for their work shining a light on Queer and Trans issues - in both classrooms and among friends.
Cole Ainslie Cole is a 15-year-old Grade 10 student attending St. John Paul II Catholic Secondary School in Scarborough and identifies as transmasculine. In the fall of 2016, Cole worked with Toronto Pflag to put together an educational presentation for all Grade 10 students at the school, and came out to all of them during the four assemblies held that day. It was the first coming out of its size in either the Toronto Public or Catholic school boards. Cole is very active in the school's Gay-Straight Alliance as well as in many advocacy and support groups for LGBTQ Youth in east Toronto and Durham. He continues to help educate and promote awareness for trans and queer youth at his school, as well as working alongside Toronto and Durham Pflag groups to share his story and promote understanding with diverse families. By sharing his story in such an open and meaningful way, Cole is showing other LGBTQ Youth, their parents and allies, how leadership can change lives.
Tate Wentges is a Transgender male. He is proud to be who he is and is a huge advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Tate is the only openly LGBTQ Person at his Catholic school and he educates people about our community every day. Tate is also a part of the Principal’s Advisory Committee he incorporates a lot of LGBTQ+ issues into his school’s and peers’ everyday lives.
Dany is an elementary school student in grade 8, and attends a combined Intermediate and Secondary school. In grade 7, they successfully petitioned their school to become the first elementary student to be permitted to join the secondary school Equals Group (a group for LGBTQ high school students). The group is now a GSA that is open to all students. Dany also successfully advocated to the school administration for the right to be able use the school facilities that match their gender variant identity. At the start of their grade 8 year, Dany gave a presentation to all teachers about their gender diversity called “The Definition of Me”. Dany is also the first gender diverse elementary student to be voted the head of Girl Talk, a group for Secondary and Intermediate students. Dany is involved in Guiding, and has advocated to Guiding leaders to be more inclusive and aware of all LGBTQ issues. The leaders have now taken gender diversity training to be able to better serve everyone in their group. Dany is also an active participant in Durham PFLAG, where they have attended the Youth Leadership Camp.
Karah Kushnir a.k.a The Wallflower, was born and raised in Richmond Hill. Karah is a gender fluid gay spoken word poet and a Concurrent Education and Sexuality Studies major at York University. Karah also founded the York Region Rainbow Umbrella (YRRU) in 2014, a nonprofit support and social organization for LGBTQ+ people in York Region. Karah have been dabbling in the art of poetry for eight years, and have been competing in slam poetry for about four years now. As a spoken word poet, Karah uses their voice to talk about love, mental health struggles, and social justice, specifically LGBTQ+ issues.

Honorary LGBTQ Youth of the Year

Stella Skinner is an 8 year student, Trans activist, and a huge Sailor Moon fan, who wants to make her school a safe and open place for all. In the words of Stella’s mother “Stella was born 4 pounds and two months early. We worried brain swelling would leave her struggling her whole life to catch up. As she grew, we noticed how brilliant and wide ranging her interests were. As a baby, she enjoyed trucks and Hello Kitty equally. Fear stopped us from encouraging her feminine side. Her teacher was the one to give her a safe place to grow how she wanted. It took w whole to find out that there was an outside community who would support us. We feared transitioning. Our fear still kept her in the boy's washroom and she was molested by fellow students. Despite that major setback, Stella socially transitioned when she was six with a lot of help from her teacher. My socially awkward little boy is now the brave, bold, and beautiful little girl we've always known she could be. We were slow to catch up to her, but now we hope to stay alongside of her and the desires of her heart. When Stella transitioned, we started looking around for ways to connect to the community. We started going to flag raisings, protests for LGBT rights, and we got involved in visiting the Ontario Legislature, lobbying for Transgender rights, including banning conversion therapy. After each event she always asks, "When's our next Trans event." Her pride and protection for the marginalized has helped her be braver for herself.”

LGBTQ Positive Business of the Year - Nominees

MoJo Toronto is an event company dedicated to the LGBTQ Community in Toronto. Promoting diversity and inclusivity, MoJo Toronto incorporates all groups and communities into their brand and are best known for the popular weekly event FML Mondays Industry Night at Flash on Church, MoJo's RuView at Erotico, #L at Blyss Nightclub, and the past famed events Ganja Queens at Cannabis Culture, Back To Church and Flexx at Church on Church, and the final two years of Sultry Saturdays at Byzantium. MoJo Toronto has hosted and created numerous charity events in the LGBTQ Village and across the city as well, including fundraisers for The Hospital for Sick Kids, ACT, The 519, Movember, PWA Foundation, Rainbow Railroad and the Orlando Pulse shooting victims and their families. Bringing people of diverse backgrounds and experiences together -whether it's for a good time or a good cause or both! - is MoJo Toronto's passion and goal within their business. Their FML Mondays motto says it all: DROP THE DRAMA - JOIN THE PARTY!
Life and business partners Kelly Kyle & Sonja Scharf founded Akasha Art Projects Inc. in August of 2009, offering their fine art services to the residential, interior design, and art consulting markets. They also host a gallery space that is dedicated to exhibiting contemporary photography, providing a space in which art and its promotion are actively pursued. Kelly and Sonja’s entrepreneurial philosophy is based on “conscious entrepreneurship,” focusing on the effect that their business leaves on the world around them. Akasha’s philanthropic efforts include framing for the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre Art Attack auction. Both Kelly and Sonja are actively involved with the Snap Photography Fundraiser for the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), where both have actively sat on the live and silent juries and have sponsored the framing of limited edition pieces for the live auction. They are also big supporters of the Inside Out Film Festival, framing a number of pieces for the silent auction. They have also participated in (and framed for) the 10x10 Project, where every June, ten photographers in the LGBTQ community generate ten images each, totaling 100 images of influential members of the community. In addition, Kelly holds the position of co-Chair for the fundraiser held on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia at the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity. Sonja has sat on the committee for Nuit Rose for the past two years, returning for a third year as a juror.
Ciarlo Communications, founded in 2006, is a successful boutique-style PR agency that has worked with a variety of local and high-profile clients in the arts, entertainment, non-profit and LGBT. Founder Vince Ciarlo has been an active volunteer and advocate of the LGBT community, donating his time and PR services to several community organizations, including: Forte-The Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus, Nuit Rose, and Heart of the Flag Federation. In addition, Ciarlo Communications managed PR for Michelle DuBarry’s 80th Birthday and recent recognition from the Guinness Book of World Records. These publicity campaigns brought international attention to Toronto’s vibrant LGBT community. Heart of the Flag Federation honored Vince Ciarlo with the designation of Mama’s Canadian Media Man. Vince has also promoted a number of LGBT positive businesses (Church & Wellesley BIA, Flash/Erotico, Statler’s, Northbound Leather, etc.) and individual LGBT performing artists, including: Jeffery Straker, Adrianne Pieczonka, Derek Paul Miller, James Collins, Micah Barnes, Joey Niceforo, Cameron Carpenter and Marty Thomas.
Striker Sports Bar started as a dream which grew and developed into the space the community now enjoys on St. Joseph St. The owners had a mandate to create an all-inclusive and safe space, so they hired diverse and accepting staff to welcome their guests and to push forward with their values. In a short time, Striker became the first LGBTQ establishment to host a professional sports league sanctioned event when the CFL brought the 104 year old Grey Cup into the bar for guests to see. Striker continues today working tirelessly to build strong community ties partnering with The 519, You Can Play and PWA among many other groups important to the advancement of LGBTQ equality.
Alison Stockport began her career in 1988 and A.S Electrolysis opened in 1993. Alison, owner and operator, vision was to provide a safe and supportive environment for Trans women to deal with their concerns of unwanted hair. Alison continually advocates for the Trans community and has worked closely with management at the Carrot Common to provide positive and safe spaces for her clients.

Inspiring Community Organization of the Year - Nominees

Arabian Knights LGBTQ is a not for profit initiative that was founded in February of 2016, to address LGBTQ Middle Easterners need to have an event celebrating their culture, their background and their music. Founded by Kerolos Saleib an Egyptian gay man who initially struggled with his sexuality being born and raised in a very conservative religious household and country. After years of deep soul-searching Kerolos was finally able to come to terms with himself and overcome these obstacles. Arabian Knights LGBTQ is currently one of the most popular regular events in the community, bringing together a very diverse audience.
NUIT ROSE, started in 2014 as part of WorldPridem, it is a free annual festival of queer-focused art and performance that takes place during Toronto Pride. It showcases provocative, cutting edge work by diverse local and international artists, and engages LGBTQ communities, art lovers, residents and visitors to Toronto in unique experiences with art across the city. Nuit Rose is organized by the Throbbing Rose Collective, an open community collective of volunteer artists, curators, art producers, culture workers, and enthusiasts in Toronto. Nuit Rose takes place in both indoor and outdoor spaces in two Toronto neighbourhoods: West Queen West and the Church-Wellesley Village. Both of these neighbourhoods have rich queer-activist, visual art, and cultural history. After three successful editions (with 120+ artistic projects) the festival return for its 4th year this June 2017.
Pieces to Pathways is a peer-led initiative creating Canada's first substance use support program for LGBTTQQ2SIA youth in Toronto. Founded in 2014, P2P began as a conversation between Geoffrey Wilson and Tim McConnell, themselves LGBTTQQ2SIA-identified young people in recovery. They aspired to create a supportive space in which queer and trans youth seeking support for their substance use would have their experiences and identities affirmed, not denied. Sponsored by Breakaway Addiction services, P2P currently provides 3 community drop-in spaces, structured support groups and case management services.
Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP), founded in 1989, has worked nearly three decades to meet its mission in Toronto’s African, Caribbean and Black communities. Black CAP’s work is guided by their motto, ‘Because All Black People’s Lives Are Important’, and it stands as a reminder of the importance of our commitment to their community. The Mission of Black CAP is to reduce the spread of HIV infection within Toronto’s Black communities and enhance the quality of life of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The agency delivers a range of programs and services to address the growing HIV epidemic in Toronto’s Black communities. Black CAP also delivers a range of vital community services to Black LGBTQ communities, including innovative prevention, social support and settlement programming.
The OPS Pride Network (OPN) is one of many Employee Networks in the Ontario Public Service (OPS). Employee Networks function as a professional resource for employees and the employer and play a central role in supporting the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the OPS. The Vision of the OPN is an LGBTQ inclusive organization that supports all OPS employees to achieve their full potential and to deliver excellent public service. The Mission of the OPN is to give voice to and effect positive change for LGBTQ employees in the OPS workplace. They accomplish this by conceptualizing, planning, organizing and facilitating programs which provide networking and educational opportunities and policy influence on critical issues facing the OPS LGBTQ community.

Share this post

Go to top