A lifetime of achievement
Bob Leahy interviews the remarkable human rights trailblazer and transman Boyd Kodak, one of the recipients of the Inspire Lifetime Achievement Awards being honoured December 14 in Toronto.
Boyd Kodak is a musician, writer, filmmaker and festival curator. And that's just the start!~
Bob Leahy: Congratulations on being honoured with an Inspire Award for Lifetime Achievement in our community. I see the awards ceremony is coming up December 14. But first things first. What are you going to wear?
Boyd Kodak: So excited, got some awesome tails…always wanted to wear tails…hot new shoes in shades of pewter…still looking for just the right bowtie :~)
BL: Seriously, tell me what receiving this award means to you.
BK: Wow, to receive this award is an incredible honour for me, and to be in such distinguished company as the lovely Michelle Dubarry and the late Jack Layton, is truly amazing. I think it’s important to remember our past, while we continue our move forward. The Inspire Award initiative to celebrate our GLBTQ history, and be all inclusive, united as a community in the recognition of our achievements, shows all the work was worth it. There have been many hard working activists, of which I was privileged to be a part of, that helped make a difference. It’s great to be included, recognised and appreciated.
BL: I want to talk about your trans journey a bit. When did it start? And does it ever finish?
BK: I started my transition in 1997. I was doing some work with a lesbian/gaynews magazine show at the time. People would send in requests for stories. One came a few times from a group called TTAC –Toronto Transgender Action Committee. I agreed to cover their story, and met some of the best people I had met my whole life. Beautiful and brave people who were standing up for their identities and that of those they loved. I finally found my perfect fit.
My journey will never finish, because for me it includes continually building community and continuing outreach for understanding and acceptance. It also means me reaching out through my art as well as activism.
I have started a new project that involves writing and recording music and a musical about my life, in collaboration with the talented performer and community favourite Carrie Chesnutt. I will publically identify as trans and continue my efforts to help promote awareness and understanding.
BL: I imagine it was harder back then to go through that gender transitionprocess than it is today?
BK: Harder in many ways. There was very little community when I first transitioned. There was a LG community, but not a LGBTQ community. There wasn’t the community support, unification and services that there are now. There weren’t health centers and doctors to help. There was just the Clarke, with some limited funding and big hoops.
It’s still not easy. Surgery is expensive, if you go that route.
BL: What would you say to a fifteen year old questioning their gender identity?
BK: I would tell them they are not alone, they are not wrong or bad. Try to love yourself, be proud, be strong and reach out. There is more acceptance and understanding of gender identity in trans youth since there has been more education and available resources. When I first meet some of the people in TTAC, there was a beautiful woman and her most amazing mother. Born male, he was taken from his mother, locked up and given electric shock therapy as a youth. The mother fought for years to get her child back and help her through her transition. Thank goodness they don’t do things like that in Canada anymore.
I first remember identifying and telling my parents I was a boy at 2 years old.
BL: You have been hugely active in human rights, Boyd. For those who don’t know your history, tell us about your personal impact on the Ontario Human Rights Code?
BK: Prior to my transition I lived as a lesbian. I came out publically in the 70’s, and began helping in the fight for equal rights. I was working in an executive position in the private sector, and was then known as Jan Waterman. In 1988, I was escorted out of my office and out of the building for refusing to agree to homophobic action orders given to me on the company’s direction. They wanted me to disband a group of friends that happened to be gay & lesbian (tell them they had to remain quiet, to keep to themselves and not fraternize, they were not welcome to come to the Christmas party) and to fire someone. I filed a human rights compliant in 1988, and in 1993, won a precedent setting case in Ontario opposing sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. There is an exhibit about this on display in the Canadian GLBT Archives. The case Waterman vs National Life is specifically mentioned in the Ontario Human Rights Code and is still used in Teaching Human Rights in Ontario. The results of this case made it law that no one fear persecution, discrimination or loss of employment due to their sexual orientation. This historical achievement is referred to as the beginning of Gay and Lesbian history in Canada. It is also included in the Gay & Lesbian History Timelines.
BL: Amazing. Now, clearly trans issues have come a long way, but what more needs to be done?
BK: Sexual orientation and trans issues have come along way, but lots more needs to be done.
In Canada, the Northwest Territories is the only provincial/territorial jurisdiction to include gender identity in their Human Rights Code. This is so not acceptable. There is now the Trans Lobby Group with numerous activists like Susan Gapka and Davina Hader working tirelessly for these issues to be recognized and resolved.
BL: Have you done any work on trans/HIV issues?
BK: Yes, I've done a lot of volunteer work to raise funds for AIDS organizations and did a series of video-making workshops for children affected by HIV. With regards to trans/HIV issues, I also have been involved with filming panels, PASAN and programs used in university libraries and teaching sex ed in high schools.
BL: You’ve also been very active in the arts and film in particular? Tell us what you’re most proud of there.
BK: When I started working with film and festivals, there were trans programs that screened work about us, but not by us. I was the first trans person to be on the programing committee of a gay and lesbian film festival, and became involved with curating programs of work by trans artists for many film festivals worldwide.
In 1998, my creative partner Cat Grant and I, began to curate themed programs within trans programing. As opposed to just being about transitioning, they were about our history, our romances, our loved ones, our activism. I used my studios and helped many artists to get their work out. In 2001, I became Executive Director of the Counting Past 2 TS/IS/TG Film Festival, which ran 7 days. It became the biggest festival of its kind, and the first of its kind to have provincial and municipal funding.
BL: What’s the state of queer cinema right now, would you say?
BK: Again queer cinema has come such a long way. When I started working with the festivals I would go around to screening committees and give workshops on trans issues to committee members. I remember placing the first few trans people amongst screening committee members. Now festivals regularly include trans people on their screening committees and some even have specific trans screening committees. I do want to mention that I am thrilled that the Inspire Awards are not only including the trans spectrum in the awards recognition, but are including trans arts in the evening. I will be performing two original songs with my new creative partner Carrie Chesnutt, and work representative of and by the trans community will be included in the silent art auction.
BL: I want to ask you three questions that are not so serious, but are intended to get us to know Boyd Kodak the person. So . your favourite restaurant and what you would order there?
BK: Dinner : Fresh – Black Bean Burrito, Cherry Pom Smoothie
Dessert : Organic Chocolate/Raspberry Cake and Champagne
BL: Your opinion of Glee?
BK: Some great voices. I support their efforts to bring issues to the forefront, but some fairy tale endings. There’s going to be a performance by the Etobicoke School of the Arts Glee club, at the reception…very cool.
BL: What does Boyd Kodak want for Christmas?
BK: Hmmm, tough question. Of course I would like for the people in this world to learn to love each other better, and live in peace. I would like a cure for the horrific illnesses amongst us and for the suffering to end. A wish just for me, the opportunity to continue in my efforts to help promote awareness, understanding, acceptance and love through my creative endeavors would be perfect.
BL: OK, we lied. Here’s a fourth. Tell us something about Boyd Kodak that nobody (or hardly anybody) knows.
My best friend calls me Sonny, haha, but in a good encouraging way.
BL: Finally, Boyd, you’ve clearly had a lot of accomplishments and the Inspire Award recognizes that. But what are you most proud of about your life?
BK: Another really hard one. I am most proud of never giving up, helping create a united community and staying positive. I guess, just trying to stand up for what’s right.
BL: Great! Thanks for talking to us Boyd – and see you December 14th.
BK: Thank you, can’t wait!
The Inspire Lifetime Achievement Awards take place December 14, 2011 at the Courtyard Marriott, Toronto. Tickets and more information here.