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Centre to show off world’s ‘first and only gay object’ at gala 

Photo: Adam Feibel

Jer’s Vision, an Ottawa-based non-profit organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, has renamed itself as the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD), recognizing its national outreach.

University of Ottawa graduate Jeremy Dias founded the CCGSD in 2005. Dias spoke to the Fulcrum about the 10th anniversary of the CCGSD, its different projects, and the significance of a name.

“It was time for a change,” said Dias. “It’s not just about me or my vision.”

In 2000, Dias took the Algoma District School Board in Sault Ste. Marie to the Ontario Human Rights Commission because he wasn’t allowed to create a gay social club in school. The case dragged on for five years, leading to a $5,000 settlement for Dias, the second-largest human rights settlement awarded in Canada.

“I didn’t want the money,” said Dias. “This is money that my school board should have spent on a gay-straight alliance or something to make lives better. This is not good enough, it’s not what I wanted: the world to be a better place.”

With the money, Dias and six friends founded Jer’s Vision in 2005. Originally, it was just a scholarship fund, but has expanded into various programs, workshops, research, and initiatives like the Day of Pink.

Dias said the organization had been reflecting on a name change for a while to better reflect the organization. “We’ve gone from this small Little Engine That Could to Canada’s largest LGBTQ charity,” he said.

“I have people on my team who do really amazing work, and the truth is it’s not my vision anymore. It was the vision and embodiment of hundreds of people. We’ve always been this and we want people to recognize us as this,” said Dias.

Lukayo Estrella, CCGSD team leader, reflected on the process of renaming in a press release.

“Names can hurt and heal. I’ve had painful names screamed at me, but my name is a healing name. I chose it because I’ve always been Lukayo, and I want people to know me as Lukayo. The renaming of the organization is similar.”

Dias described the projects the CCGSD is undertaking, including one that’s attracted significant public attention, the gay sweater. “The world’s first and only gay object,” according to Dias.

“It’s the idea of a number of people,” said Dias. “It’s tiring when you’re walking down the street and someone says your sweater or shoes are gay. It’s not, I am. It’s not cool when people use transphobic and homophobic language.”

The 20-pound sweater, created by textile artists Brenna MacDonald and Amelia Lyon, is made from the hair of hundreds of LGBTQ+ Canadians. A video about the project has racked up more than 60,000 YouTube views since March 23. Dias said he’s received requests from numerous organizations, schools, and museums in New York and Toronto to present the sweater.

“This is our personal experience, the lives of people literally and metaphorically woven together,” said Dias.

“One kid wore the sweater and complained about how itchy and heavy it was. Eventually, he got used to it, and he realized that it was like homophobia. It didn’t hurt as much, but it was still there. Another kid pulled out some of his hair and literally tied it to the sweater, because he wanted to be part of it.”

The CCGSD will officially unveil the sweater in Ottawa at the Day of Pink Gala on April 8, which also serves as a celebration of the group’s 10th anniversary.

Looking forward, Dias said the CCGSD wants to increase and produce more research, and work more with adults, and service providers.