INSPIRE Awards 2022 Recipients & Nominees
INSPIRE Awards 11th Anniversary — September 16th, 2022
Coming off of the pandemic, our community has been excited and vocal about returning to an in person event to celebrate our accomplishments! We are very ecstatic to welcome you back to the Hart House at the University of Toronto for the INSPIRE Awards – a night to celebrate the LGBTQ2S+ community and create an event where inspiring people, youth, organizations, and businesses are recognized for their wonderful work.
On behalf of INSPIRE Awards Board of Directors, Subcommittees, Community Partners, and Sponsors:
Congratulations to all the Recipients and Nominees!
Award-winning dyke DJ, writer, event producer and social historian Denise Benson believes in the transformative power of a dancefloor. We, as queer people, can both lose and find ourselves on them.
A party-rocker with an ear for the underground, Denise has brought crowds and communities together since the late ‘80s, including through signature events like Dyke Nite, S.H.E. Saturdays, Bent, Synchro and Cherry Bomb.
Denise has long mixed sound and stories – also as host and producer of ‘Mental Chatter’ on community radio station CKLN for 21 years, and as a music columnist for publications including EYE Weekly, Exclaim! and The Grid. Her book, Then & Now: Toronto Nightlife History, was published by Three O’Clock Press in 2015.
Denise’s current projects continue to explore connections between music and community. In 2021, she wrote and narrated the Gaybourhood Music Tour for indie multimedia company Pop Sandbox. This interactive walking tour shares the stories of pioneering Toronto 2SLGBTQ+ venues and artists. Denise now works as a freelance Writer / Researcher in film and television, including on multiple music doc series for Banger Films. She is co-producer and host of soon-to-be-released documentary, Outrave.
Denise’s seven-year-old son, Tyler, simply calls her “Mommy.”
Rick Mercer is a Canadian comedian, television personality, political satirist and author. He is best known for his work on the CBC Television comedy shows This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Made In Canada and Rick Mercer Report. He is the author of four books all of which have been national best sellers. Mercer has received nearly 30 Gemini Awards and Canadian Screen awards for his work on television. His CBC Television special Talking To Americans remains the highest rated Canadian comedy special ever with 2.7 million viewers.
Rick holds Honorary Doctorates from Memorial University, Laurentian University, University of British Columbia, McMaster University, Bishop’s University, Brock University and the University of Guelph. In 2014, he received Honorary Doctorates from the Royal Military Academy and from University of Western Ontario and York University.
He is on the board of directors of Historica Canada, an organization dedicated to promoting Canadian history, identity and citizenship. They are the “Heritage Minute” people.
He is a recipient of the Governor Generals Performing Arts Award for lifetime achievement and in 2014 was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.
He is a native of St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Kero Saleib, is a queer, non-binary, Egyptian, Activist who’s been living with HIV since 2007. They have battled with substance abuse, homelessness, and family rejection due to their queerness. but that didn’t stop them from being the voice and change that needed to happen in the HIV/AIDS sector with a particular focus on the middle eastern queer community living with HIV/AIDS. That didn’t come easy. They are also an ordained Old Catholic priest and had an activist and social justice church that advocated for HIV/AIDS prevention and education in Washington DC. They were recognized in 2012, as one of the Heroes that have impacted change within the HIV/AIDS sector and faith leaders. Their biography can be found in the archives at the Martin Luther King Jr Library in DC, alongside Martin Luther King himself. Kero made the decision to become an activist when they realized none of the AIDS service organizations provided services specific to the LGTQIA+ Middle eastern community living with, affected by or at risk of HIV. So, they took it upon themselves to be that change and inspire others to be that change and leaders for generations to come. Today they work in the international humanitarian development sector, where HIV/AIDS, Anti-Racism, Prevention of sexual abuse and exploitation and humanitarian Aid are put at the forefront in Capital hill in Ottawa.
Chris Forrester is the chief technical officer at Shyft Network Inc. In this role, Chris is responsible for the design, development, and maintenance of the software and technical stack for the network’s operation. She is also responsible for assisting in building out the network’s partnership structures and blockchain & traditional infrastructure bridging processes. Prior to becoming the chief technical officer of the Shyft Network, Chris was the chief technical officer at Decentral Inc. leading the development team for the Jaxx mobile wallet, as well as assisting in building proof-of-concepts with the strategy team for large entities such as the Toronto Stock Exchange. Previous history includes working with portable EEG hardware & software through Interaxon Inc.’s product “Muse”. She is also a shareholder and developer within Block Unity, one of the parent companies of Shyft Network Inc.
Jada Shada Hudson
Runner-up for Canada’s Drag Race Season 3 and Toronto’s TURN UP QUEEN!
Born and raised on the beautiful island of Barbados, Ms. Jada Shada Hudson was a star from the beginning. At a young age she began performing in professional theater, and kept matriculating her talents at the national level with Barbados’ leading dance troupe. Upon immigrating to Canada she delved deep into the drag scene and has come out on top!
The past 13 years, Jada has dominated not only Toronto’s drag scene, but queer celebrations all over the country. She has gained notoriety for being bubbly and gracious which garnered the attention of top brands in campaigns for Spotify, Fireball, Bud light and BMO among others.
“Toronto’s Turn Up Queen” is still revving up. Along with being a recurring panelist on the hit show, ‘1 Queen, 5 Queers’ Ms. Jada Shada Hudson was recently featured as a contestant and runner up on the third season of Drag Race Canada, which premiered July 2022.
Moka Dawkins - Nominee
Moka is a Black & Indigenous racialized trans/2s freedom fighter who experienced racial identity profiling and transphobia by the Toronto Police and Ontario’s provincial and federal judicial systems back in 2015. After nearly 5 years of incarcerated activism, Moka in her regained freedom continues to confront injustices of lack of civil protective legislations and it’s homogeneous effects for racialized gender and sexual differing identities. With current lgbtq2s+ societal & political issues of violence and murders on the rise, Moka’s target focus of educational awareness is furthering knowledge on positive integrated communications with the removal of existing prejudice relations towards black & lgbtq2s+ communities.
Moka’s accomplishments include, 2018 advocacy for reformative policies within Ontario’s provincial correctional system towards the equity & equality policy on identity rights and access to gender affirming canteen items for trans people being detained in provincial systems. Along with a 2020 and 2021 “Person Of The Year” nomination with Inspire Awards. Currently, Moka is in full time studies with Centennial College in the Community and Justice Services program. She also works as a Research and Development Specialist with Ryerson University. Moka’s work
resume excels currently with a Board of Director position with Pride Toronto and is Pride Toronto 2022 Trans Ambassador. Alongside that Moka started her own not-for-profit & podcast T-Time Tips Productions which offers transitional health wellness and lifestyle advice to peoples undergoing hormonal therapy. T-Time Tips podcast is available exclusively at www.t-timetips.ca.
You can also catch more of Moka and some of her life experiences in her reality life and death documentary “Surviving The Block” which depicts the 2015 life and death stab attack and attempted murder violence Moka survived from while being accused of murder from the Toronto’s Police Services. Surviving the Block is now available on OUT T.V. Moka is available for panel bookings/ guest lecture presentations and protest speech bookings by
email:email@example.com or online at www.mokadawkins.com
Viviana Santibanez – Nominee
Viviana Santibañez is a strong community leader that’s been working with marginalized communities
for over 12 years, focusing on supporting and advocating for Latinos living with HIV and LGBTQI Latin
She is a service provider for non-profits organizations such as Latinos Positivos Toronto, PWA, Center
for Spanish speaking people, Hispanic Canadian Heritage Council, Canada Trans Summit, and OCS,
she is the first Latina woman appointed to the board of directors of Ontario HIV Treatment Network.
She has a private LGBTQI Latinxs group in Facebook where she connects with the community. She
has a background in community health worker, nursing, community capacity building, digital
communications, and recently secured her qualifications as an immigration consultant to assist her
community at no cost. Viviana refers people to social, legal, and health services, and seeks to
incentivize the LGBTQI community in Latino/Hispanic events. Between 2019 and 2022 she has
assisted over 30 refugees to apply for protection and many of them are Permanent resident today.
She is multifaceted as has also represented Canada internationally, bringing the first-ever International
Trans pageant title to Canada, where she competed in a trans-advocacy pageant that helped to inspire
and empower trans women around the world.
Maya V. Henry – Nominee
Maya V Henry is a Toronto-based actor and social media content creator. During her undergrad at TMU (FKA Ryerson), she started a YouTube channel to chronicle her transition and connect with an online community. It started out as video diaries but grew into so much more. By the time she graduated with a BFA in Film Studies, She had amassed over 200,000 subscribers and starred in an LGBT short called “For Nonna Anna” which debuted at TIFF and won a special jury prize at Sundance. She continued to pursue her acting career by starring in the feature film Dawn, Her Dad, and the Tractor which released Canada-wide on Crave as of March 2022.
Rainbow Hunt – Nominee
Rainbow Hunt is a community artist, activist, fighter, and educator around Ability, sex, and gender. Rainbow is also an HIV/AIDS educator and enjoys supporting others with mental health and depression, who face struggles in their communities as a result of transphobia, homophobia, racism, ableism and sexism. She believes in creating a space for 2SQTBIPOCSA multicultural youth in the Scarborough community to have a place to go and feel welcomed and valued, share their ideas and access resources; a place where youth can be free of discrimination. As an activist she supports youth in the community to create their own tools to educate others in the community on topics that they face, to decrease the struggles they experience. She is the Project Executive Director and Co-founder of Rainbows Pride in Scarborough and works very hard to write grants for the project for youth to gain the skills and education needed to fight, be their own facilitators and educators, and gain self-esteem and decrease poor mental health.
Mina Do – Nominee
Mina Do is interested in creating work that destigmatizes people who work in sex. She teaches pleasure based sex education and trauma-informed, practical consent and represents Butterfly, the Asian and Migrant Sex Worker Support Network. Hire her for a good time, a workshop or a party that’s as fun as it is informative and as intersectional in political analysis as it is accessible for anyone to understand and learn from.
Nathan Barnett - Nominee
Nathan is an openly trans and queer man with ADHD, who has been working in the ASO sector for the past 3 years, starting as part of his education at Trent as a Social Worker. Nathan has worked in various roles such as: organizing and leading the 4th iteration of Totally OUTright in the Durham Region as well as creating and leading over 15 training sessions on affirming LGBTQ+ language for 300+ service providers. In addition to his work with ASOs, Nathan spent two years working as a student politician, advocating at both the provincial and federal level. His work has included authoring 6 policy papers with the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, including the Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ Students and Student Health and Wellness policies, as well as personally representing LGBTQ+
post-secondary student issues in more than 15 meetings with MPPs and MPs. Continuing his education at Laurier with a Master’s of Applied Politics, Nathan hopes to research how the language used in policy impacts the understanding of queer issues and identities. After finishing school, Nathan hopes to continue advocating and working in a role that serves the LGBTQ+ community, though what that role will look like, he has no idea.
Adeah Carew – Nominee
I came out as bisexual in Grade 5 and then I came out as non-binary in Grade 7 with my pronouns they/him as well as my new name Adeah (previously it was Aaliyah). When I came out last year, I created a full PowerPoint slideshow explaining all of the different sexualities and gender meanings to help my parents & family understand better. I strive to continue to do more research, educate, advocate and represent both the LGBTQ+ and the Black community as best I can.
I am a Grade 8 student at Waverly Public School in Oshawa and one of the three founding members of Waverly’s Gay Straight Alliance (WGSA) as well as Waverly’s Black Community Club (WBCC). I have demonstrated strong leadership in my school by creating a safe space for members of the LGBTQ2S+ and Black community to talk about experiences, barriers and to celebrate each of these communities.
Tele Kapkirwak – Nominee
Tele is a nonbinary 1st generation immigrant from Kenya and Program Coordinator for the Black Queer Youth Collective. They have spent the last 7+ years deeply involved in working and volunteering in the Black LGBTQ+ community. They are an experienced facilitator and focus on proving direct peer support to the community on issues such as housing and employment as well as creating programming and dedicated spaces by and for Black Queer and Trans youth. Tele is dedicated to exploring never ending intersecting identities and having discussions that are real, transformative and kind. Tele can never get enough of the beach, sun and sand and can be found in the studio painting, drawing or watching TV.
Elementary Careers – Nominee
Jena Tarabad is the founder of Elementary Careers, an innovative organization dedicated to enhancing career education for children aged 3+. She produces games and lesson plans designed to broaden horizons while removing harmful gender and racial stereotypes, and is the creative visionary behind the non-discriminatory career learning tool When I Grow Up.
Despite worldwide research demonstrating the need for stereotype-free resources for children aged 3+, there are very few organizations actively working with this age group to positively reinforce that anyone can achieve anything, regardless of their identity. While it’s disappointing to be one of the only businesses in this field, Elementary Careers is proud to be a trailblazer and hopes that career education will be more inclusive and empowering for future generations, especially for those in underrepresented communities.
So Fierce Music – Nominee
Velvet Code, a DJ/Producer from Toronto, is the founder of So Fierce Music an 2SLGBTQIA+ Inclusive Music Label that helps elevate the careers of artists who have been marginalized and disadvantaged by the music industry. Now with a talent roster of 40+ artists including some of the top drag recording artists in Canada, Velvet’s mission is to give marginalized artists a shot at success.
During the pandemic, Velvet sponsored 20 drag artists across Canada to help them financially. In September 2021, Velvet launched the YOU DO YOU Foundation (https://youdoyoufoundation.org) which aims to help underprivileged and financially compromised 2SLGBTQIA+ musicians utilize music on their road to wellness. In May 2022, Velvet announced the first recipient of the YOU DO YOU Foundation Music Grant – Brayo Bryans, an aspiring singer-songwriter and human rights activist from Uganda, East Africa, rescued by Rainbow Railroad from fear of persecution in his own country. Sponsored by SO FIERCE MUSIC and through the help of sponsors and donations, Brayo Bryans will receive direct access to music and video production services valued at $25,000 and the opportunity to work with seasoned producers, songwriters and videographers to assist in jumpstarting his career in Canada.
The Blake House — Nominee
Designed by the renowned architects Knox & Elliot and built in 1891, The Blake House is one of the last standing heritage structures in Toronto mixing late 19th century Victorian and Second Empire architecture. Its first owner, the Honourable Edward Blake was the second premier of Ontario and leader of the federal liberal party between 1878-1887 . He was also the founder of the law firm known today as Blake, Cassels & Graydon. At that time, Jarvis street was a tree lined boulevard of stately mansions as displayed on our wall stencils and pictures. Leading Canadian families such as the Cawthras, Masseys, and Gooderhams were among Blake’s neighbours. The home remained in the Blake family until 1917.
Since then, the home went through several owners as the street led way for high density projects. In the 60’s, The Blake House was transformed to the Celebrity Club, an exclusive supper club. Shortly after it became the legendary Red Lion Pub. The famous British cartoonist Ben Wicks also occupied the second floor for many years in the 90’s.
Today, Jarvis Street has undergone gentrification. Old homes have been restored to their past glory while new high rise developments have added a contemporary edge. In the same vein, The Blake House has undergone an extensive renovation and invites you to take in the history while sitting on our sunny patio having a local pint or inside by the original wood burning fireplace sipping some wine.
Taslan Protective Services Inc. - Nominee
Taslan Protective Services Inc. is Ontario’s first and sole black, LGBTQ+-owned and operated security services company. Taslan Protective Services Inc. is committed to taking security services beyond traditional models of manned guarding and security while overcoming heteronormative biases, transphobia, and homophobia within the security services sector and in the communities we serve. We offer intensive training courses in the areas, inclusive of LGBTQ+ sensitivity, opioid overdose response, and Trans 101 etc. Our philosophy, values and community-based partnerships inspire our security solutions and projects. We are poised to make a difference.
Taslan Protective Services Inc. offers a broad range of security and protection services for communities and local businesses. We work with our clients to assess their security needs and implement solutions that exceed their expectations. Our mission is to safeguard local businesses and communities by providing professional, reliable, and effective security services that are available 24/7. Taslan Protective Services Inc. is proud of its diverse team of guards, who are experienced, well-trained, and ready to act in the best interest of our customers. Customers choose Taslan Protective Services Inc. because of our commitment to providing cost-effective security solutions and superior customer service.
Toronto’s Indigenous Harm Reduction - Nominee
Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction is a response to the epidemic of ongoing colonization and lack of services for the urban Indigenous population.
TIHR aims to reduce harm around stigmatized experiences such as substance use, displacement, and other survival strategies resulting from racism and colonization.
We are a grassroots initiative that endeavors to reduce the harm and burden that society places on Indigenous people with stigmatized experiences such as substance use, houselessness, incarceration and most recently, covid-19 and more. Through access to ceremony, traditional food and medicines, essential survival items, transportation, communication networks, access to healthcare and aid, we firmly believe harm reduction is a lifesaving practice.
Black Queer Youth Collective – Nominee
The Black Queer Youth Collective (BQYC) was formed in 2017 in direct response to a major service gap in youth programs. Four community leaders got together to design a peer-led program that would respond to the unique needs of Black Queer and Trans youth in Toronto. Since the successful launch of our Domino Project in partnership with Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, the BQYC has provided support to over 150 Black LGBTQ+ youth through our various projects and initiatives. During the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, we introduced our Domino Table Talk -an eclectic 5-part web series with discussions on the Impacts of COVID-19 on Black LGBT youth, Advocacy and Leadership, Mental Health, Food & Culture and Forming and Maintaining Healthy Relationships. Additionally, we administered an emergency relief project and provided regular monthly support to youth who required financial assistance due the pandemic. Our work continues to have a significant impact on the lives and Black Queer and Trans youth.
Red Dress Ball – Nominee
The Red Dress Ball Foundation is a Canadian non-profit dedicated to ensuring ongoing awareness of the continuing impact of HIV/AIDS in Canada, raising funds to support initiatives & organizations that help people living with, or at risk of HIV/AIDS. Together, we advocate for a world without HIV stigma and come together as a community to give back. Since 2018 we have fundraised over $200K to help various organizations in Toronto supporting people living with, or at risk of HIV/AIDS. Each year, we hold an event known as The Red Dress Ball, which brings together a broad and diverse community to raise money and make connections. Having to pivot in 2020 & 2021 from a live in-person event to a digital format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Webathon FUNdraiser gathered some of the biggest names in drag and entertainment to continue to reach our fundraising goals. In 2022, the foundation decided to officially incorporate as a non-profit organization.
The Toronto Women’s Art Festival – Nominee
The Toronto Women’s Art Festival, is about celebrating women Artists and is usually held in March around International Women’s Day.
Formerly known as the Goddess Day Arts Festival, our past accomplished lineups have included Emmy, Gemini, Dora, Juno, Grand Prix Medal winners and nominees, as well as young talent just beginning their careers.
We include artists who identify themselves as women, and in many genres.
We have had singers, dancers, writers, comedians, sculptors, photographers, aerial performers, and much more!
Diverse and accessible, we are also a registered not-for-profit organization.
Everyone involved at the production end generously volunteers their time.
Our inaugural 2019 event was held at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Both the audience and performers enjoyed it thoroughly, so much so, we moved to a larger venue in 2020, Artscape Sandbox.
The festival was a great success, and had media interest.
Committee for Accessible AIDS Treament – Nominee
The Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment (CAAT) was formed in 1999 as a community response to uninsured, racialized/newcomers living with HIV/AIDS (PHAs). CAAT is now a coalition of more than 40 Ontario-based organizations from the legal, health, settlement and HIV/AIDS sectors. Since its inception, CAAT has been at the forefront of education, research, service coordination and advocacy on issues related to HIV, immigration, and
access. This includes conducting research on the health access of immigrant, refugee & non- status PHAs that has led to (1) HIV medication access programs at Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (PWA), (2) Immigration lawyer funding at HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO), and (3) The HIV & Immigration Training program at Regent Park Community Health Centre (RPCHC).
Joie Lamar believes that the only way to find comfort on this complex orb floating in space is to be multifaceted and of service to others. “That old thinking of boxing someone in to one anything whether it is a career, calling, gender, age and even ethnicity must die.” She says passionately “We are all one and we are everything to each other. To simply say I am LatinX negates my indigenous, or Taino, blood, for example. I’m non-conforming in all I do. I’m a non-binary she. Whatever labels are required by others, limit me.”
In keeping with her life philosophy, Joie is a retired Engineer / Project Manager, Best Selling Author, Public Speaker, Podcast host, Publisher, a staunch feminist, and life long Activist. In addition to this professional CV, and 17 patents to her name, Joie has served her many communities, in a variety of roles, for over 35 years: Engineers Without Borders, United Confederation of Taino People, Pride New York, Copper River – Native Village of Eyak, Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief, WWF Ocean Conservation, Management, and Protection, INSPIRE Awards, The Q Experience, Goddess Day Arts Festival, and the Coalition 4 Building Communities.
Neil Kudrinko (Representing Front Line Grocers)
Neil Kudrinko is a second-generation grocer from Westport, Ontario whose social and environment responsibility beliefs are reflected in his business serving a community of 2000. Growing up in a small conservative community delayed his public coming out until just last year. Neil had built a strong reputation for environmentally responsible and sustainable business practices and as a community builder. Neil’s coming out coincided with his friend Jessica asking for help with getting the village to raise the pride flag for the first time and in founding Westport Pride. Through his visibility, Neil has helped many in the Westport community find their own courage to be queer in a small town. While helping with a school open house bbq, Neil was introduced to a family by the school’s principal. Evan is 12 and was looking to transition to his new name and pronouns. With Neil’s encouragement, Evan officially announced his change to his class the following week to the cheers of his classmates. Neil is a passionate supporter of the trans community. His friendship with Rev. Junia Joplin inspired him to research gender affirmation coverage in employee benefits programs which resulted in Kudrinko’s adding the coverage to their employee benefits.
Jeffrey Martin (Representing Front Line Nurses)
Jeffery identifies as non-binary and his road began as a drag performer who paid his way through nursing school and recently completed his Master of Nursing diploma, where he combined his creative and compassionate sides by self-producing LGBTQ2S+ music videos. Jeffery is a first-generation Canadian, whose parents migrated from India in the 1970s. He is always intrigued to learn new skills, as he comes from a family with many different and specialized survival skills. After a near-death experience and the deaths of close loved ones, Jeffery decided to live life to the fullest by helping as many people as he can, because he realized that life is too short, to not take advantage of opportunities, and to use his time and energy to advocate and uplift each other for a better tomorrow. Jeffery has visited his parents’ home city to volunteer nurse in Faridabad, India to broaden his perspective and appreciation for the privileges, safety, and freedom to be an openly proud LGBTQ+ advocate in Canada. Jeffery is a front-line charge nurse, a teacher’s assistant for nursing students, who also volunteers his time to many LGBTQ2S+ non-profit organizations, as he was inspired by compassionate-driven mentors.
Dr. John MacLeod (Representing Front Line Doctors)
I am a family physician in an HIV dedicated practice in Toronto. I began practicing medicine in 1989 In Montreal at the Montreal Chest Hospital after graduating from Dalhousie.
In 1989 very few health care workers would care for anyone with HIV, but there was an urgency to respond to the needs in my community. I found myself dedicating my career to both HIV care and to those at risk. This came with the challenges of witnessing the impact HIV had on the lives of both my patients and my personal friends.
Over the years I have worked with several physicians, health care workers and community groups committed to HIV care. With clinical care came research, teaching, and advisory boards. I have served on the Science Review committee and the DSMB of the CTN. Yet the greatest reward of my career has been advocacy for my patients and community, and the deeply personal experiences shared by my patients.
I entered my career with one pandemic, one that was deeply personal. I now find myself immersed in providing care during the Covid pandemic and now the spread of monkeypox. HIV care has taught me about social justice and the need to come together.