Led by: Julian A. Perez-Duerto, Xavier Browne, and other members of Express, Supporting Our Youth (SOY)’s group for queer newcomer youth, and the Queer App Project
Text by: Xavier Browne and Kelly Danielle Ockhuizen
Photographs by: Isaac Trae
Kelly: The walk took off at the AIDS Memorial and ended at the Sherbourne Health Centre. It followed a route through places where, as queer newcomers, we felt welcomed and accepted for who we are. All the SOY participants who took part in the walk were interviewed; each of us had a certain place where we agreed to stop during the walk and share our experiences.
I chose to speak and be interviewed at the Sherborne Health Centre. We had decided it should be the final destination because it’s where our weekly SOY meetings take place. It’s our home – where we meet make new friends and family; where we feel welcome and appreciated. It’s the place where I first felt like I was a part of a community that understood me and didn’t judge me based on my sexual orientation. It felt good to open up and be heard and seen by all those who chose to join us. It is an experience I will never forget, because in Botswana I would never, ever have opened up like I did.
Xavier: I’d only been in Toronto for a month before I led a Jane’s Walk. I was the ultimate newcomer. One of our first stops was the Toronto AIDS memorial. At first I didn’t know it was a memorial. I thought it was just a park. I was kind of amused that there was an AIDS memorial right in the heart of downtown. Anything to do with the subject would have been hidden away back home.
There were lots of stops like that. We showed people the Steamworks Bathhouse and the Stag Shop for sex toys. Many people judge you if you walk into a place like that, but I tried to highlight the positives on our walk. The staff are educated in same-sex partnerships, which is important in our community, Toronto’s Gay Village. They provide information about how things work, about how to safely use their products and which ones to stay away from. They go over safe sex practices. That information is so essential for people like me.
When we passed the local theatre, the group talked about the need for having spaces like it for LGBTQ performers. A younger teen who was on the walk asked us lots of questions. He asked, “How do you feel as newcomers? Do you feel like you belong?” I answered that one. I said that we do feel like we belong, but Toronto could be more open. I said that I feel safe here, safe enough to go to the police if I needed. Back home you can’t do that.
The walk gave me momentum. I think it’s easy to say we live in Toronto, but do we really live in Toronto? Often, we don’t pay attention to what’s around us. Things I think are familiar, aren’t really. There is so much more to see: an ice cream shop, a restaurant. If you pay attention, you see more. I want to thank Jane Jacobs for inspiring people to pay attention to what’s going around them. The walk helped me get a different feel for my community, and it helped me appreciate this place where I can be openly gay, be who I am, and be comfortable in my own skin.