Job Title: Sexual and Gender Minority Equity Supervisor, Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta
Why She’s Top 40: She advocates for sexual minorities’ rights while creating safe spaces for LGBTQ youth.
What Do You Like Most About Edmonton?: “No one here ever ceases to surprise me; there’s always a new surprise – a person, a place, an event. Edmonton is always growing, changing and adapting; nothing ever stays the same. It’s dynamic.”
Alexis Hillyard sits with a two-year-old girl, drawing outlines of their hands. Hillyard traces the girl’s hand, then the stump on the end of her other arm. The girl initially resists; then, Hillyard traces her own stump and says cheerfully: “Look, we’re the same!”
Hillyard, who was born without her left hand due to congenital banding in the womb, has never let anyone make her feel bad about being different from others – and she works hard to ensure that others with similar challenges don’t feel ashamed of their differences. She’s been involved with the War Amps CHAMP program since her youth, and still does speaking engagements and volunteers for the Matching Mothers program, a service that pairs the families of disabled children with other families who have gone through similar situations.
Although she was rarely picked on during her childhood, she is adept at diffusing tension through humour and, when she was younger, practiced, with her mom and sister, how to defend herself against bullies. Now, Hillyard spends her time ensuring sexual minority youths have the tools and self-confidence to stand up to bullying. She organized the 2013 edition of Camp fYrefly, which took place at the Bennett Centre in Edmonton. The camp offers support to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth. While a colleague took over Hillyard’s Camp fYrefly responsibilities in September so Hillyard could focus on campus-based initiatives, she remains a big advocate for the organization. “I didn’t have it rough growing up. It was fairly easy for me,” says Hillyard, who is a gay woman. “But a lot of adults volunteering at the camp say what a difference it would have made to have something like this while growing up.”
Hillyard also acts as an advocate for adult sexual minorities. She organized the University of Alberta’s first-ever Pride Week, held last March with support from the university President Indira Samarasekera and various other higher ups on campus. “It was much more than I ever expected. No one said: ‘No, you can’t do this.’ It was overwhelming support. I was really proud of the university for stepping up.”
Last year, Hillyard started the Gender Inclusive Washroom Initiative, as part of the Gender Based Violence Prevention Project on campus. A gender-inclusive washroom is one that can be used by anyone regardless of gender identification, says Hillyard. The initiative includes mapping gender-inclusive washrooms on campus and lobbying for additional inclusive washrooms. “If something does not sit right with me, if something is not OK, I will always do something about it, even if it’s something minor, whether that’s for myself or for others.”