Friday, December 10, 2010


HOUSE CALL is a series of community conversations that will travel to different parts of Toronto in an effort to build a diverse movement to create a shelter for homeless LGBT youth in Toronto. Some of these conversation will be hard. Some of these conversations will be full of joy, full of pain, full of memory and full of hope. Some of these conversations will be historic.
All of these conversations are conversations we need to have.

The HOUSE CALL conversations have three purposes: Record, Relate & Renovate.

We come together to build a record of our histories & hopes.

We come together to build a movement and make new friends and allies. We respect and listen to each other, even if it’s uncomfortable or scary.

We come together to build a new shelter that reflects the needs and dreams of lesbian, gay, bi, trans, transsexual, transgender, two-spirit and queer youth.

On Thursday December 9th, 2010 we had the first HOUSE CALL community meeting, which will be a series of conversations that we will have in different parts of Toronto in the coming months.

Here is what the event looked like:
7:00 Welcome

7:05 Short film ("Out on the Street") & presentation on why we need an LGBT shelter in Toronto by Alex Abramovich,
with some brief examples of LGBTQ shelters in America.

7:25 Record & Relate Round 1 (see details below)

7:55 Record & Relate Round 2 (see details below)

8:20 Whole Group Open Mic

8:40 Wrap-up & What You Can Do To Stay Involved

9:00 End

Record & Relate Options

We really want to give people different ways to Record & Relate their experiences, their passion, their fears and their hopes. You can choose to do any of the below options:

Art & Craft Area (hosted by The People Project)

Video Booth (hosted by Deviant Productions: Lali Mohammed & Vivek Menon with Leo Zuniga)

Audio & Podcasting Corner

Blogging, Endorsing, Writing and/or Online Surveys

Focus Group Discussion: Why we need an LGBT youth shelter (facilitated by Aniska Ali)

Focus Group Discussion: Dreaming & Prioritizing Possibilities (facilitated by CC Sapp)

Focus Group Discussion: Logistics like Location, Size, Partnerships and More (facilitated by Curtis Norman)

The evening was well attended with people who helped spark the movement.
It was quite magical to see so many people advocating for such a necessary cause, especially on such a cold night in December when a service like this is so essential in our city.

I look forward to as many of these meetings as we need until the proper support is provided for LGBTQ youth who experience homelessness in Toronto.

Yours in solidarity,

Monday, November 1, 2010

National Forum on Homelessness

I recently had the opportunity of presenting at the National Forum on Homelessness in Montreal. The Forum invited community based organizations, public institutions, and elected representatives from all over Canada to exchange on different important themes regarding homelessness. Over a day and a half, a large group of people exchanged ideas and thoughts on practices of intervention.

I presented on the panel entitled “Using Art in Intervention”. My talk focused on the power of Digital Storytelling and how research has traditionally viewed people who are homeless as the “subjects” in research, rather than the “experts”. I spoke about our culture’s obsession with controlling which people are granted the authority of being acknowledged as producers of knowledge and how only certain people are given such authority. However, when you put a video camera or a digital camera in the hands of people with lived experiences of homelessness and you ask them to show you what they know, to give a glimpse into the real world experience of homelessness, a lot of powerful things happen:

-It recognizes people with experiences of homelessness as the “experts” of their experiences and allows their lived experiences to inform strategies for solutions to homelessness;
-It validates those involved in sharing their stories as the “knowledge makers”;
-It interrogates the traditional research notion of ‘us’ and ‘them’;
-It encourages solidarity building
-It reflects the diversity of experiences, bodies, and voices in homelessness;
-And of course it helps break down people’s stereotypes of homelessness.

I suggested that whether you are using art or digital storytelling with participants in your research or as an art therapy tool in social service programs, the process of art making and/or digital storytelling for individuals with lived experiences is therapeutic and empowering. It encourages self-expression, communication, exploration, and social justice.
But, as much as I encourage the use of art and digital storytelling with participants, I think it is crucial for researchers to spend time thinking about authenticity and how to be more authentic in their work.
I believe that in a journey as personal as digital storytelling, researchers and social support providers need to think about what they are asking people to share and be willing to share their story as well.
It’s time for our culture to shift how it understands what knowledge is and who is given the power of producing it.
I would like to see more storytelling from those with lived experiences of homelessness and more listening from our society, because maybe when that happens, we will actually be able to come up with strategies to end homelessness.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

it gets better

There have been a number of recent teen suicides in the LGBTQ community.
This has really broken my heart and the hearts of many.
In response to these tragedies, Dan Savage started the "it gets better" project as a way to give a little hope to teens everywhere.
Sadly, LGBTQ teens are 4 times more likely to commit suicide in comparison to heterosexual teens.
Homophobic and transphobic bullying are an everyday reality in high school's across the nation. And at the end of the day, countless teens have no place to go, but back "home" to family situations that are often filled with bullying and abuse.

It's important that we come together as a community and find ways to make our city more supportive and safe for all youth, and that we encourage youth to fully be who they are.
Youth need to know that it does get better...and we need to make it better.

I created a short video for youth, as my contribution to the "it gets better" project:

Let's all be part of this much needed shift...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pride with Youthline - 2010

Pride was fantastic this year!
I danced through the parade on the Youthline between 2 giant cardboard printouts that read:
"There are NO emergency shelters for LGBT youth in Canada"
"1/3 of homeless youth are LGBT"

I am so thankful that Youthline helped raise awareness to the growing issue of LGBTQ youth homelessness and the lack of support available here in Toronto.
It was a wonderful experience to finally spread this message at such an important event. I can only hope that amongst the crowds of thousands of people squirting water guns and dancing to music....that this message was heard. I can only hope that someone focused their camera lens onto the words and walked away thinking about this. Because here in this beautiful city of Toronto...25-40% of the homeless youth population are LGBTQ and we still don't have a specialized emergency shelter - shame.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

ShOUT "Unconference"

Queer West Motto – Building a Community
Strengthening the City
ShOUT “Unconference” A Participant-Facilitated Discussion

Out on the Streets: Queer, Young and Homeless in Toronto

Queer West is launching the First new ShOUT Queer Youth Forum event on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @ Masaryk-Cowan Community Centre (Parkdale). You're Invited.

ShOUT is a monthly Open Space technology “Unconference” A Participant-Facilitated Discussion, designed For and By Queer Youth and Young Adults, including their friends and allies in West Central Toronto Ontario.

Mix and Mingle with our panelists and the six members from the Beehive Collective, who worked hard putting tonight’s event together for you. All Generation-Y volunteers. The Queer West Board of Directors will also be present. Philip Cairns, Jaclyn Isen and Michel F. ParĂ©.

There will be Art Show and Works by Ilona Abramovich
The SHOUT evening is Free and Wheelchair Accessible. Vegetarian food, cupcakes and green tea, will be provided.

Wed. Feb 24 event runs from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm at the Masaryk-Cowan Community Centre
220 Cowan Avenue (Toronto Parkdale)

Unconference topic
Out on the Streets. Young, Queer and Homeless in Toronto
Some LGBT youth find their sexual orientation an additional barrier within already limited services for homeless.

-Short film screening (problem, research being done, solutions? Support?)
– Reframing “home” in queer terms
-Community kinship as queer family
-Where’s the support from Toronto AIDS/HIV Organizations?

Guest Speakers:
Disclaimer: Please note that participation in ShOUT! Queer West Youth and Young Adult Program does not necessarily reflect the sexual orientation or gender identity of its participants in any particular way.


Ilona Abramovich

Ilona Abramovich is a PhD student in the Adult Education and Community Development program at the University of Toronto – OISE.

Her research interests focus on LGBTQ youth homelessness, youth culture, and support services. The main question that drives Ilona’s work and passion is “where is the support?” She strives to find where the support is for LGBTQ youth who are homeless in Toronto and to help share the voices of a population of people who are often silenced and unheard.

Abramovich is interested in arts-informed research and media activism and is always thinking of new ways to spread awareness and hope.

She paints on canvas, wood, and concrete – using acrylics, spray paint, nails, wire, and screens. Ilona is inspired by pink skies, observation, and hope. Her Web Site:

Max Baru

Max Baru was born in Moscow on November 4th, and currently resides in Toronto Parkdale .

Baru is a member of Parkdale Street Writers group (A weekly writing workshop for Street Youth). His work focuses on contemporary fiction, and explores unconventional romance, issues of identity, and gender as well as attempts to distort social perceptions. Baru’s work often contains undercurrents that reflect his views on mental health issues, and although often presented through a dark motif emphasizes self-preservation. Baru is currently a volunteer at Dandyhorse (Cycling) Magazine and most recently his poetry has been featured by the Hot-Sauced Words poetry reading series. Baru was an attendee at our Queer Expressions a night of Poetry and Spoken Word at The Press Club on January 24, 2010

“Writing for me has been a band-aid as much as it has been a way to communicate. It’s been dangerous and comforting, a way to slow down, connect, live many places, genders, and hair colors. It lets you revolt in your own unique way and thank the ones dear to you in the most personal way. Working with the Parkdale Street-Writers has been a thrilling experience.” said Max Baru

Brian McCurdy

Brian McCurdy 25 Parkdale, a former street youth will be tonight’s Facilitator . McCurdy is an active member of many communities and projects, including the AGO Youth Council, Culture Shock youth arts project, a group at The North York Griffin Centre for LGBTQ youth with disabilities, Laidlaw Foundation’s Youth Engagement Program, the Bring Back the Don project in Regent Park, Queer West Arts Collective and is an artist who has participated in a number of art and theatre projects and shows. He won a Toronto Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line Creative Activism Award in 2007.

Emily Pohl-Weary

Toronto author Emily Pohl-Weary grew up and still lives in the city’s west end. She’s currently writing a four-issue girl pirate comic (illustrated by Willow Dawson). Her young adult mystery novel, Strange Times at Western High, was published by Annick Press in the fall of 2006. Emily started art/lit hybrid Kiss Machine magazine in 2000. A slim collection of her poetry, Iron-On Constellations, was published in late 2005.

Her first novel, A Girl Like Sugar, was released in 2004.Pohl-Weary currently coordinates a free weekly writing group for west-end Toronto youth called Parkdale Street Writers. She also facilitated writing workshops at Evergreen Youth Shelter and Street Outreach Services in 2007 for Toronto Youth Street Stories /Youth Pathways Project, an arts-based research study conducted through the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction and University of Toronto, which focused on issues of ethnic and sexual diversity, drug use, and mental health faced by youth living in high-risk environments on or close to the street.

She is currently working on a new novel, a film script, and is completing a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts at the University of British Columbia. Visit Her Web Site:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Xpressions Against Oppression: Judy Shepard

Matthew Shepard (1976-1998)

Yesterday evening I went to York University to listen to Judy Shepard (the mother of Matthew Shepard) give a talk.
In October 1998, at the age of 21 Matthew was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming because he was gay.
Matthew was murdered for being gay.
He was murdered because of pure hatred.
Matthew's murder brought world-wide attention to the issue of hate crime legislation.
His murder also instilled much fear into the gay community and caused a lot of people to hide deeper in the closet.
Matthew's story has pierced many hearts and changed many lives.
After his murder, his parents Judy and Dennis co-founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation and became strong advocates for LGBTQ rights.

When I heard that Judy would be coming to York U to speak, nothing was going to stop me from being there.
She started her talk by reading her victim impact statement from the trial.
Tears and emotion overwhelmed the room.
In front of us all was this beautiful human being...this beautiful mother...with all her words and struggles...with all her energy and strength...full of compassion and love.

She told us about Matthew, about his coming-out, about their family, and the pain they have all been through. She also spoke about the Matthew Shepard Foundation, human rights, and America's struggle to catch up.

"Educate, educate, educate...we need to educate one another"

What really hit home was when Judy spoke about the need to educate people in every situation we enter. The need to always be true and honest to not hide and to not be shameful.
This of course made me think of my research. People often ask me what my PhD is all about...I've noticed that when I say "youth homelessness" I get smiles and words of encouragement, but when I say "LGBTQ youth homelessness and the lack of support available" I get silence, maybe a little smile, and when I add "homophobia, transphobia and hate" in there, I get absolutely nothing. Sometimes it's easier to go with the first scenario, but by doing so I'm not being honest and I'm certainly not educating. I believe that no matter how hard the reaction, how ignorant your audience, in being honest every single time with a motive to educate...we will achieve this.

She spoke about making things personal every single time in order to educate people.

"We need to make it personal...the personal gets through to people...
people understand the personal"

Judy also spoke about families and how we are not always born into the family that we belong to, but that there is a family out there for everyone...these words really brought I looked around I could not believe the amount of people crying...the amount of families broken.
Broken families because of an incapacity to understand the human heart.

Throughout the evening I kept thinking that the world should hear her words, her honesty, and compassion. What a difference it might make if people listened to Judy's message.

I am thankful for having heard Judy speak, as I'm sure everyone was; this was evident by the standing ovation she got from the audience both as she entered and exited the stage.

May we never stop this fight for social justice and equality.
May we never lose hope.
May we always be honest and true to who we are...and may hate crimes end.

Thank you Judy for your words...for keeping on...and for fighting this fight.