20 years of growth for the Youth Project

Halifax Youth Project celebrates two decades of support for LGBTQ youth.

By Rebecca Brown

Morgayne Isnor learns what the Youth Project was like 20 years ago (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)
Morgayne Isnor learns what the Youth Project was like 20 years ago. (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)

Dozens of signatures filled the guestbook on Friday night as staff, volunteers, supporters and members of the LGBTQ community poured into the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to celebrate the Youth Project’s 20th anniversary.

“Tonight is all about sharing stories, celebrating our history, performances from our Youth Board and having a lot of fun,” says Kristen Sweeney, an outreach co-ordinator at the Youth Project.

Halifax drag queen Eureka Love and her friend Maddy stood on a podium in the main foyer of the museum, introducing speakers and sharing their own experiences with the Youth Project.

“It seems like such a funny thing because we’ve really come a far way in the last 20 years,” says Love. “It seems a little bit ridiculous to have to hide but the work isn’t done and it’s a really necessary resource to have the Youth Project.”

The Youth Project is a non-profit organization that works with people under the age of 25 around the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. The organization has spent the last 20 years supporting young people in the LGBTQ community through education, support services, leadership and advocacy.

“We’re lucky because when it seems like maybe we’re on the right track, that maybe we don’t need the Youth Project anymore, it just simply morphs into something else that we do need,” says Eureka Love.

Making a difference

Based out of a little house with a bright pink door at 2281 Brunswick St., the Youth Project provides social support for young people throughout Nova Scotia. Workshops on homophobia are held province-wide and the organization is working to create a gay-straight alliance (GSA) network at all schools.

Amy Jones has been going to the Youth Project since 2013 when she attended Queer Prom, a organized event that was hosted by the Youth Project.

“It’s a breath of fresh air, really,” says Jones. “It’s really refreshing to just be around people who you can relate to and connect with and people who are going through the same struggles.”

Jones, who is also the head of the GSA at Cole Harbour District High School, says educating her peers is the best way to fight discrimination at her school.

“I remember my first meeting with the GSA. It was actually the second meeting because I was too scared to go to the first meeting,” says Jones.

Before going to the Youth Project, Jones had only come out to a few of her close friends. She says the project has helped her feel more comfortable with who she is as a person.

“It’s been wonderful,” says Jones’ mother, Kaye MacDonald. “The biggest thing, I think, is the acceptance. It doesn’t matter who you are, [the Youth Project] is just accepting.”

The organization has received funding from the federal government since 1998. Throughout the week, the Project hosts movie night and offer a drop-in centre and support groups. The house has a library, video games, movies, foosball tables and a TV.

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Where it all began

The Youth Project began in 1993 as a field placement for Maura Donovan in order to fulfill the requirements for a master’s degree in social work at Dalhousie University.

Maura Donovan shares how the Youth Project began (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)
Maura Donovan, founder of the Youth Project, shares how it all began (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)

“It was a tough time to be gay or lesbian or bisexual in Nova Scotia and nearly impossible to be transgender,” says Donovan. “There were no role models, there was a lot of invisibility and there was a lot of fear, harassment and discrimination.”

Coming out as a lesbian while completing her undergraduate degree at Acadia University, Donovan was aware of the need for a support group amongst young people dealing with the issues around sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Comparisons have been made that Nova Scotia [in 1993] was a little bit like Russia now,” says Donovan. “I think there’s some truth to that. Things were very, very difficult.”

According to Sheena Jamieson, a support services coordinator at the Youth Project, young people in Nova Scotia are finding self-disclosure earlier than ever before. When the Project first started, the average age to come out was 21.

Just beyond the entrance, the Youth Project house hangs a collection of mug shots of young people holding signs that read “out since…” followed by dates. Most common on the wall are people below the age of 18.

“[Young people] are finding safe spaces younger, they are learning the language younger and they are finding the resources to come out,” says Jamieson. “This is just a testament to how many people have found the Youth Project and made it something amazing.”

A look back

Lindsay Dauphinee, who attended the Youth Project as a teen and is now on the Board of Directors, remembers her struggle coming out as a lesbian 10 years ago.

“I had some trouble with other kids at school but nothing serious. I wasn’t beat up or anything,” says Dauphinee. “I didn’t have many friends, so I just kept to myself.”

Although the Youth Project has broken a lot of ground for young people when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity, Dauphinee says nothing has changed in regards to language.

“I still hear people saying, ‘That’s gay’ or calling people by the wrong term,” says Dauphinee. “I think it’s offensive. It hurts.”

Dauphinee looks forward to the day where it does not matter how people identify themselves.

“I would love to see a day where the Youth Project wasn’t necessary,” says Dauphinee. “That we wouldn’t have to have an organization to battle homophobia and transphobia.”

Eureka Love ended the night with a toast to the Youth Project. Two large cakes were brought out in celebration and guests took to the floor to dance. A playlist of hits promoting gay culture, such as Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and Macklemore’s Same Love, played over the sound system, causing a breakout of movement.

“Here’s to another 20!” says Love.

 

Chance encounter inspires musician to crowdfund for homeless man

Flautist Patricia Creighton is launching a crowdfunding project to help 26-year-old Kevin Ogilvie get off the streets of Halifax.

By Rebecca Brown

Kevin Ogilvie plays with his daughter, Isabella. (photo courtesy Kevin Ogilvie)
Kevin Ogilvie plays with his daughter, Isabella. (photo courtesy Kevin Ogilvie)

A well-known musician is doing what she can to better the life of one homeless man.

Patricia Creighton, a flautist with Symphony Nova Scotia, is launching a crowdfunding project through Indiegogo to help 26-year-old Kevin Ogilvie off the streets of Halifax.

“I’ve given homeless people money before, but Kevin is the first homeless person who’s really given me the sense that he wants to get off the streets,” says Creighton.

Ogilvie has been living on and off the streets of Halifax for the past 10 years. He says that when he was 16, he was kicked out of his parents’ home just outside the Annapolis Valley for being rebellious.

In an effort to provide Ogilvie with a warm place to stay, enough food and the resources to land a job, Creighton has set a 30-day goal to raise $5,000 through the crowdfunding site. Fundraising is expected to begin on Tuesday.

“I am so grateful for Patty. I have never met anyone like her,” says Ogilvie. “I mean, who would do this for someone they just met? Nobody has ever done anything like this for me.”

Creighton, who is also a teacher within Dalhousie University’s department of music, says it was a chance encounter that brought the pair together at a gas station on Bayers Road on Feb. 24.

Creighton says she was filling up her car with gas when she heard Ogilvie yelling, ‘Why can’t people be kind to each other? Why can’t people help each other out?’ and felt an urge to help. She approached Ogilvie and asked to hear his story.

“I had just spent my last night at the shelter I was in and had no idea where I was going next,” says Ogilvie. “Patty seemed genuinely interested in helping me.”

That night, Creighton took Ogilvie to the YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth and paid for him to spend two weeks in the upstairs hostel.

Ogilvie stays at the YMCA on South Park Street (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)
Ogilvie stays at the YMCA on South Park Street (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)

Since arriving at the hostel, Ogilvie is making an effort to do better for himself. He goes to the public library to search for employment and is looking into getting his Grade 12 education.

“I kept looking for red flags, but he was so grateful,” says Creighton. “All I could go on was my own feelings.”

Ogilvie says it was the lack of guidance and abusive conditions which he experienced at home that caused him to fall behind in life.

“We see a lot of kids who come from broken families where there wasn’t much stability,” says Marianette Bryan, co-ordinator at Phoenix Youth homeless shelter. “It can have a lasting effect on the child and cause them to fall through the cracks.”

The 2013 Report on Housing and Homelessness in the Halifax Regional Municipality shows that since 2009 the number of people staying in homeless shelters has increased from 1,718 to 1,816.

The money raised will also go to support Ogilvie’s 1½-year-old daughter, Isabella, who lives with Ogilvie’s estranged girlfriend in Halifax. Ogilvie says that he plans to buy diapers and new clothes for Isabella with the funds from the crowdsourcing project.

“Isabella is my world. I want to give her the type of childhood I never had,” says Ogilvie.

Creighton has produced a short video about Ogilvie’s story titled “Pay it forward; Homeless in Halifax” to accompany the crowdsourcing project. She hopes people will feel moved by the video and make a donation to Ogilvie.

“I still cannot believe how much has come from meeting Kevin,” says Creighton. “I never thought I’d feel so compelled to do something like this. But when you meet someone with his spirit, all you want to do is help.”

Via Rail supporters rally to ‘get back on track’

Passenger rail advocates want to save a 71-kilometre track between Miramichi and Bathurst, N.B. Without the track, Maritimers won’t be able to take the train west.

By Rebecca Brown

Two trains sitting idle at the Via Rail station in Halifax. (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)
Two trains sitting idle at the Via Rail station in Halifax. (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)

Dozens of community members, passengers and rail advocates rallied in the foyer of the Halifax Via Rail station on Sunday morning for 71 kilometres of passenger rail track between Miramichi and Bathurst, NB. If the government does not invest in maintaining the line, Maritimers could be without train service as early as July.

“I’m very disappointed by the prospect that those cuts will take place,” said Margo Sly, a Via Rail passenger. “I don’t understand how the small towns along the Ocean route will communicate with the rest of the country without the train. I mean, they don’t all have airports.”

Bruce Hyer, the Green Party of Canada MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, led the rally by kicking off his “Save Maritime Rail” whistle stop tour at the station to push for a national transportation strategy.

Bruce Hyer speaks to a crowd of passenger rail supporters in Halifax on Sunday morning. (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)
Bruce Hyer speaks to rail supporters in Halifax on Sunday morning. (Rebecca Brown/Peninsula News)

“Out of the G20 countries, Canada is the only one that does not support passenger rail,” said Hyer. “All the others have a national rail strategy and high-speed rail service that runs on time.”

Without help from Ottawa, Via Rail will be forced to discontinue service to large communities in northeastern New Brunswick, most of which lack convenient air and bus transportation. Via Rail enables people in rural communities to get to school and reach specialized health care in larger cities.

$10M needed to secure rail service

In January, CN Rail announced that it would abandon the stretch of track it currently shares with Via Rail between Miramichi and Bathurst because it no longer carries freight on the line. Before discontinuing that part of the line, the 71-kilometre stretch will be offered for sale. Via Rail made a previous statement saying that it cannot afford the $10 million price tag for the track.

CN Rail is allowing five months to receive an offer to purchase the section. It will be offered first to private interests and then to all levels of government. If the section is not purchased, Via Rail will not be allowed to use the track once it is discontinued.

John Pearce of Transport Action Atlantic (TAA) presented his findings at the rally on Sunday. TAA is an advocacy group for public transportation that collects data on the use and availability of transit services in Atlantic Canada.

“The alternative is to run the train through the middle of New Brunswick along the freight line but nobody lives there,” said Pearce. “Rerouting passenger rail service away from those who need it would undermine its ridership.”

According to TAA, Via Rail receives a very small amount of funding compared to highway expenditures. TAA says the $10 million needed to secure the 71-kilometre track is equivalent to upgrading one kilometre of two-lane highway.

“It’s not too late to save Via Rail in the Maritimes,” said Hyer. “We just have to show the government that this matters to us and we will get back on track.”

Hyer boarded the Ocean train heading west from Halifax to Montreal and gave short speeches at station stops along the route. He urged passengers to contact the minister of transport in Ottawa and sign an online petition.

Fran Gregor shares her memories of taking the train: 

Why Portia White matters 70 years later

Almost 70 years later, Portia White’s story can still teach us the importance of generosity in building better communities, says filmmaker Sylvia Hamilton.

By Ariel Gough

Filmmaker Sylvia Hamilton says there's a lot to learn from Portia White. (Ariel Gough/Peninsula News)
Filmmaker Sylvia Hamilton says there’s a lot to learn from Portia White. (Ariel Gough/Peninsula News)

Almost 70 years later, Portia White’s story can still teach us the importance of generosity in building better communities, says Nova Scotian filmmaker Sylvia Hamilton.

The Dalhousie Art Gallery screened Hamilton’s documentary, “Portia White: Think On Me”, on February 18 in celebration of African Heritage Month. The documentary, which first aired on Canadian television networks in 2000, chronicles the personal life and career of the acclaimed African Canadian vocalist.

It is Portia White’s generosity that Hamilton said still resonates today.

“In “Portia White: Think on Me”, you saw Portia’s siblings talk about how connected she was to family and taking care of them.The generosity and bringing people together was very important to her,” she said.

Hamilton said that there is sometimes a disconnect in our society and like Portia, she believes generosity could bring communities closer together.

“We are not always generous with each other and we don’t recognize that we are all interconnected,” she said. “In the black community and in the broader community, if we all live in this world together then we have to be generous with each other.”

Born in Halifax, Portia White, became the first black Canadian concert singer to win international recognition. She was a teacher in communities across the province, including the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.

Despite the difficulty of getting bookings because of her race, the operatic contralto singer went on to perform for notable public figures, including Queen Elizabeth in 1964. Once called “the singer who broke the colour barrier in Canadian classical music” by the Chronicle Herald, she toured the United States and Canada to perform in front of large audiences.

White later returned to Toronto to teach vocal lessons. She died after a battle with cancer in 1968.

In order to be generous and connect with each other as White did, Hamilton feels it is all about starting the conversation.

“We need to have open dialogue about this,” she said. “We need to engage in an honest way with each other and think about how we can build communities together.”

Jane Henson, a Halifax resident who attended the screening, said she believes the late vocalist would want us to continue to spread her message.

“I think Portia would want us to come together. Yes, that starts with being generous. It’s simple, isn’t it?” she said. “This film is extremely important to all of us as Nova Scotians and I feel extremely grateful that Sylvia collected this information.”

In a question and answer session after the screening, Hamilton said she hopes to put together a biography on White using research she collected for the film in order to make the information more widely available.

The art gallery also screened Hamilton’s documentary “Black Mother, Black Daughter” during the event. The film explores the contribution of African Nova Scotian women to the home, the church and to the community.

To find out more information about African Heritage Month events across the province, visit ansa.novascotia.ca

King’s Feminist Collective strives for more confidence on campus

The University of King’s College Feminist Collective wants to help students embrace their bodies for what they are, instead of tearing them apart for what they aren’t.

By Michelle Pressé

The King's Collective promotes a positive body image. (Michelle Presse/Peninsula News)
The King’s Feminist Collective puts a self-loving spin on Valentine’s Day. (Michelle Presse/Peninsula News)

Have you ever skipped going to the beach because you were uncomfortable wearing a bathing suit, or untagged yourself in a Facebook photo because you didn’t like the way you looked?

The University of King’s College Feminist Collective wants to help students embrace their bodies for what they are, instead of tearing them apart for what they aren’t.

“We want to cultivate a community of self-love on our campus,” says Emma Kenny, a second-year English student minoring in gender and women studies. “We want people to focus and think about why they love themselves.”

Kenny, who is also president of the collective, says they’re brainstorming ideas to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. The goal is to host a spoken word event and crafting session that will help people express themselves and feel good about their bodies.

(Michelle Presse/Peninsula News)
(Michelle Presse/Peninsula News)

“We’re constantly being told by the media that we’re not good enough,” says Kenny. “We want to put a stop to the idea that it’s necessary to be airbrushed to be beautiful, especially on campus.

“There’s a huge amount of self-hate that’s overheard in Prince Hall [King’s cafeteria] and the gym.”

Emma Morris says that empowerment starts with confidence. The second-year political science student and co-president of the collective hopes Women’s Day will help spread self-acceptance and confidence around the school.

“Loving your body for what it is helps carry the feminist movement forward by smashing those stereotypes of what a beautiful body is meant to be,” says Morris.

Their idea for an event for Women’s Day was inspired by the success of the collective’s first Be Your Own Valentine event.

On Feb. 12, members set up a table in the lobby of the Arts and Administration building to offer free condoms and pamphlets about sexual and mental health.

President of the King’s Feminist Collective, Emma Kenny and a member, Thomas Goessaert. (Michelle Presse/Peninsula News)
President of the King’s Feminist Collective, Emma Kenny and a member, Thomas Goessaert. (Michelle Presse/Peninsula News)

They also gave out free candy and handmade valentines that were left blank for students, staff and visitors to write a message about why they love themselves.

Many people were initially stumped when given a valentine to write themselves a compliment, which didn’t surprise Kenny, who has struggled with insecurity in the past.

“I’ve felt insecure about my weight for a long time,” says Kenny. “Trying to unlearn things that society teaches you through advertising that tells you there’s something wrong with you is hard. But you have to spend 24/7 with yourself, and you’re going to be miserable if you don’t like the person you’re spending all your time with.”

The Feminist Collective meets every Friday at 5 p.m. in the Manning Room in Alexandra Hall to discuss feminist, queer and mental health issues.

JASCO scientists win 1st round of Brain War

Who can build a sturdy spaghetti tower? The four scientists from JASCO Applied Sciences can. They won the first Brain War.

By Meagan Campbell

The JASCO team builds a castle out of playing cards as a judge looks on. (Meagan Campbell/Peninsula News)
The JASCO team builds a castle out of playing cards as a judge looks on. (Meagan Campbell/Peninsula News)

They built the sturdiest spaghetti tower, memorized the most scores of jazz music, and transformed a single pack of playing cards into a castle with 15 balconies. Four scientists from JASCO Applied Sciences, a marine science consulting firm in Halifax, beat 39 other teams on Saturday at the first ever Brain War, a problem-solving competition organized by the Discovery Centre.

“A lot of our hobbies came in handy,” said Terry Deveau, a member of the JASCO team. “For example, one of my hobbies is deciphering prehistoric cave paintings, and one of the tasks was exactly that.”

The competition, which was sponsored by Nova Scotia Community College and Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s universities, was aimed at promoting holistic thinking and teamwork. Deveau and the other three JASCO team members, Nicole Chorney, Mikhail Zykov and Cristopher Whitt, competed in 25 challenges against teams from high schools, colleges, universities and corporations across Nova Scotia.

JASCO scientists Mikhail Zykov, Nicole   Chorney, and Terry Deveau at Brain War. (Meagan Campbell/Peninsula News)
JASCO scientists Mikhail Zykov, Terry Deveau and Nicole Chorney at Brain War. (Meagan Campbell/Peninsula News)

“This is the future,” said Steven Smith, co-chair of the event and the dean of science at Saint Mary’s. “They had to collaborate, use every part of their heads, and have fun.”

The JASCO team weaved between stations at the McNally Theatre Auditorium at Saint Mary’s, where the event was held. They were tasked with everything from walking in a straight line while blindfolded, to creating a tower with a package of raw spaghetti that could hold five dollars worth of nickels.

Their creativity kicked in when Zykov, faced with a Rubik’s Cube, decided to break it apart and reassemble it instead of solving it the traditional way. Later, the team designed a hypothetical “Iron Woman” suit, which was so advanced that the wearer would not be able to know that she had it on.

“We couldn’t be bounded by traditional thinking,” said Deveau. “We figured that out early.”

The JASCO team will compete for a trophy in the final round on Thursday, facing up against the teams who finished in the next four ranks: Horton High School, WHW Architects, Dalhousie Industrial Engineering, and Devon-Aire manufacturers (known as the Devon-Aire Splendid Minions for the purpose of the competition).

Brain War also acts as a fundraiser for the Discovery Centre: registration fees range from $250 for high schools to $1,000 for corporations, and judges are all volunteers. The event, which will be held at the same venue, is open to the public.

“We’re pumped, but it’ll be nerve-racking,” said Deveau. “We’ve got a position to defend.”