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Finding family on the fringes – how a university experience sparked a passion to volunteer for LGBTQ2S+ organizations

Since his first Toronto Pride parade in the mid 1990s, Andrew Mainprize has been committed to advocacy and support for the LGBTQ2S+ community, and bridging the gap with allies, which now includes his own parents who now volunteer alongside him.

A Director of Marketing Transformation for Rogers Wireless, Andrew is an active volunteer for LGBT organizations in both Toronto and London, Ontario for the past 20 years. Currently, Andrew isco-chair on the board of  Community One Foundation, one of the oldest LGBTQ2S+ organization in Toronto. The organization was formed by a group of activists more than 40 years ago to fight injustice and mobilize the community in response to the Toronto Bathhouse Raids in support of the LGBT community at a time when being “out” and accepted by colleagues and family was an even greater challenge than it is today (often criminalized, or even banned in areas like Federal public service roles)

Founded in activism and grassroots fundraising, and supported by allies, corporate donors and government grants, Community One draws together a diverse committee of passionate volunteers – like Andrew – to use the foundation as a platform for program funding, education, advocacy, and connections to other support networks including legal and refugee resources.

At Rogers, Andrew is a leader with our Spectrum LGBTQ2S+ employee resource group and works to promote organizational culture initiatives and allyship.

This is where Andrew finds his passion today, but his path looked very different 25 years ago. 

THE SPARK: One night out and a newspaper photo changed the trajectory of Andrew’s life

When Andrew left his conservative home to attend the University of Western Ontario, he was not “out” to his family or most of his friends. But in his first year, he was outed by the student newspaper when it published a photo taken of him outside of a local gay bar along with one of his close friends. Someone anonymously slipped the newspaper under his dorm room door, and Andrew was pulled from the closet.  He faced bullying, in an environment of hazing and fraternities, and self-estrangement from his family.

Andrew was officially out, but not yet home.

Andrew volunteered in the London, Ontario LGBTQ community and London Pride Committee, surrounded by the same marginalized community members – within the university and outside of it – who had proactively reached out and supported him after being outed.  After seven years on London, Andrew headed to Toronto where he saw Community One’s iconic mascots, The Fruit, at the Toronto Pride parade, and once established in his career, Andrew reached out to the organization to find a way to become involved in the community, and joined the Events Committee to support the Foundation’s fundraising efforts. Here, Andrew found new connections, support, and ultimately, his spark. 

The Impact: Making magic happen, one Rainbow Grant at a time

Andrew is co-chair on the board of  Community One Foundation, which offers Rainbow Grants – up to $100,000 per year – to fund a wide range of initiatives, from health and social sciences, and arts and culture, to research and advocacy for the LGBTQ2S+ community across Toronto.  Community One actively encourages applications for programming, projects, and initiatives that focus on the work of Two-Spirit, Indigenous Trans, Non-binary, practitioners, facilitators, artists & communities. 

Raising funds and injecting these resources in high-needs areas is where the magic happens, and where Community One’s Rainbow Grants can make a real and lasting impact in the LGBTQ2S+ community.  Andrew proudly highlights the impact of a few recent Rainbow Grants in the community:

  • They funded a pilot project with Loft Community Services to offer housing support to people in pre- and post-transition – now the program is budgeted and successfully running
  • With live performances suspended during COVID-19, Community One gifted $50,000 in pandemic relief to drag performers across the Greater Toronto Area
  • The grant funded To My Grade 7 Self, an educational video and collaborative curriculum piece, with honest educational messages of advice about coming out, bullying, and support

To celebrate all the ways he gives back, and in honour of International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, we surprised Andrew with a donation to fund one more Rainbow Grant through Community One Foundation, enabling the organization to bring one more initiative to life this year.

For Andrew, the impact of volunteering with Community One doesn’t end there.  His proudest moment was several years ago when he was hosting a large Community One Foundation fundraising event, and as he was speaking on stage, he was struck by how much had changed over the years, with his parents, partner, and many friends together celebrating this big night.  Andrew’s mom is now a volunteer with Community One, and one of their most passionate!  That forcibly outed university student is now living an authentic and purposeful life, filled with love, family, and pride.