For Elliot Black (he/him), the celebration of the 2SLGBTQI+ community through Pride is about so many things. It’s about recognizing the historical events and people who fought for equal rights and protections for every individual; about creating space for people to learn and share to strengthen empathy and understanding based in shared humanity; and about building the allyships that help to nurture an environment where every member of the 2SLGBTQI+ community can feel safe and supported.

Elliot at Pride 2023

“Pride is the celebration of Stonewall and the work of all the people who fought for me to be able to sit here and share my experiences with you. It’s also a time where there are countless opportunities to come together and connect with friends we know and friends we have yet to meet in celebration of the community as a whole in a safe space.”

Safe spaces are something that Elliot does not take for granted, understanding the important role they have played and continue to play in his own journey of self-discovery and acceptance. His time at Shad in the summer of 2019 provided him such a space, a place where he felt comfortable showing up as himself and forming organic connections with his peers.

“I was nervous when I got there and it took me a bit of time, as it usually does, to feel comfortable. But then I made friends with people I formed genuine connections with, and I felt safe, like I was a part of the community. Shad really creates a welcoming community.”

He loved that Shad emphasized the importance of looking at things from multiple angles and ensuring different perspectives were being considered. For Elliot, this inclusive way of approaching problem-solving really resonated.

“We had many discussions during sessions where we had to balance two objectives: wanting to create something sustainable while also being accessible to people. This meant considering the perspectives of people who weren’t in the room and trying to appreciate the million different ways we could approach a solution that worked for as many people as possible. It was such a valuable lesson.”

Elliot with his fellow Shads out enjoying Toronto while at Shad2019
Elliot with his fellow Shads out enjoying Toronto while at Shad2019

Today, Elliot feels more confident in who he is as a trans man navigating a world that doesn’t always feel welcoming and accepting, but that was not always the case. Though his family has always provided unwavering support as he explored his identity and sexuality, something that helped make difficult life transitions more manageable, Elliot didn’t always feel supported and understood by others, particularly when he first came out as non-binary before identifying as male.  

“When I came out as non-binary, I wasn’t changing much about how I presented outwardly and that really bothered some people. They would take issue with my using they/them pronouns while also still liking to wear pink, as if the two were at odds.  Trying to convince people of your identity is exhausting, and people would debate whether my identity made sense, challenging my own sense of self.”

Elliot with friends celebrating Pride 2023
Elliot with friends celebrating Pride 2023

Thankfully for Elliot, he found amazing support among groups of other 2SLGBTQI+ students at his school. He spent time with a group called HUGS (Humans Understanding Gender and Sexuality) where students exploring identity could come together with the support of teaching staff to talk and learn together about identity and what it meant for them.

“Having a group of us that were grappling with the same kinds of personal questions about who we are and how we deal with that uncertainty was amazing. Every week we had a topic that we would explore when we met and we’d just talk and learn together.”

He also found solace with an organization called the Gilbert Center hosted by the Orillia Public Library that held bi-weekly meetings to offer information and support to members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community.  For Elliot, having groups of support for individuals figuring out who they are and where they fit in the world is paramount, providing a place for people to ask questions and relate to others who might have gone through similar experiences.

“I learned a lot in those meetings because I started attending them in eighth grade and, before then, I didn’t really know a lot about identity and issues important to the community. Having access to people who could answer questions and explain issues, it offered me a lot of insight.”

Elliot learned that finding those small pockets of community is important to feeling accepted and supported in situations where he may be a minority. At Shad, he connected with another youth who identified as a member of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, which further added to the sense of comfort and openness he felt as part of the program.

Elliot celebrating Queer identity with members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community
Elliot celebrating Queer identity with members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community

“I shared that I had a girlfriend which prompted another student to approach me later to share things about their own identity that related to mine. It was reassuring to have that connection and know I wasn’t the only one at Shad, and that we felt safe to share those parts of ourselves.”

Creating spaces that allow people to share aspects of themselves with others is something Elliot is passionate about, knowing how vital those space have been in his own transition.

“I try to make myself known in public spaces and in groups so that I can be that safe space for someone to approach, given that I am more visibly queer than others might be. It creates room for dialogue and moments of connection that can mean a lot to people who are younger than me and might have questions they want to ask me because they don’t have others in their life who they can ask.”

Elliot is grateful for the progress that’s been made during his own time being out in the community, remembering how when he first came out as queer at 14 it felt difficult to discuss it openly with others, as society’s level of understanding and acceptance of certain 2SLGBTQI+ issues wasn’t where it is today. And though things had improved when he began his transition in 2021, he still recognizes there is a ways to go, particularly for transgender youth.

“We’ve come a long way, and I appreciate that as we look back at the beginning of Pride and the work that was done to get to where we are. I am able to live as my authentic self because of that work and because so many people work to be allies of the community. That’s really special. But really, as long as there is even one person who feels they have to hide or that they can’t be who they are, we aren’t done. Equal means equal for everyone, and we will always be working for that.”

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