Saskatoon, Treaty 6: Amanda Guthrie
(Photo by Jennifer Sparrowhawk, Intro by Elly-Jean Nielsen)
When I first met Amanda Guthrie I was still new to queer activism in Saskatoon. I was an attendee at her workshop on how to become a better activist – on connecting your heart to your community work. The personal is indeed political, I soon found out, for someone who beat cancer as a young child and came out/in as non-heterosexual in a world where it still holds much relevancy to do so. Who was this young woman who managed to speak calmly yet with total conviction? I wanted to be like that: I wanted to speak openly, eloquently, and effectively. Despite being more than a few years my junior, and not being as far along in her formal education, I have always looked up to this force of nature.
And I’m not simply swayed by Amanda’s cool attributes as a young, tattooed and pierced queer, to use her own words. To name just a few of her recent accomplishments, she: is the Education Coordinator at OUTSaskatoon; was the lead planner for Saskatchewan’s first GSA Summit; has served as campaign manager for a candidate for city council; and, was named one of CBC’s 2016 Future 40 winners.
Despite working alongside Amanda for various events, we bonded as friends over our joint love for spoken word poetry, tacos, bourbon, coffee, dogs with human names, and androgynous fashion. It is rare that the person you fight with is also someone to kick back and relax with; after all, it is crucially important for us activists to prioritize self-care. Regardless of the tone set by local initiatives, which are frequently serious by virtue of ongoing injustice in our town, Amanda – who I might mention always makes it to the rally, march, or event – knows when to smile, and send along a funny meme or emoticon.
Reflecting back on my first encounter with Amanda leads me to realize I was instantly struck by her cool demeanor and fantastic message of love and perseverance. It was like being in high school again: I wanted to look, talk, and be like her. But, perhaps, this is unsurprising. Jack/Judith Halberstam once spoke of queer adolescence as extending far beyond one’s twenties, as we resist the heteronormative imperative of adulthood. So here’s to all us queer kids rocking adulthood, and to Amanda for showing us how it’s done.
KC: What kinds of projects are you involved in right now?
I’ve been spending much of my free time over the past five months working as the campaign manager for Hilary Gough who is running for City Council in Ward 2 (Caswell Hill, Westmount, Pleasant Hill, Riversdale, King George, Holiday Park, Meadow Green, and Montgomery). Municipal politics have increasingly become a passion of mine as I’ve grown stronger roots here in Saskatoon. We live in a beautiful city, full of so many inspiring citizens. Municipal politics and cities can be incredibly malleable; ideas that don’t seem politically or socially possible at the provincial or federal level are much more realistic and possible at the city level and there are so many cities throughout the world that are great examples of that. I truly believe that we can do great things here in Saskatoon, because we already are. With the right people on city council, who lead by listening and by bringing diverse perspectives to the forefront, I know that we can begin to overcome many of the barriers that we, or our neighbours, face on a daily basis. That’s why I’m so excited to support Hilary, because her style of leadership is centered around listening, learning those with different lived-experiences, and then taking the knowledge and partnerships and turning them into action. She’s passionate, she’s intelligent, and most of all she’s ready to lead in a way that we haven’t seen in Ward 2 – by bringing our neighbourhoods together, digging deep into the systemic issues, working with everyone, and advocating for all.
I’m also deeply invested in conversations and actions around creating safe space for women in organizing spaces here in Saskatoon. I’ve experienced a lot of toxic leadership and organizing spaces since moving to Saskatoon and it’s time that we have safe spaces so that we can organize effectively.
I’m also trying to turn my dream of creating a fierce feminist girl gang of queer women who have disabilities into a reality. I lost my right eye to cancer as a child and wear a full prosthesis eye and lately I’ve come to a point where I am completely done with ableist questions and comments. I want safe space where my body isn’t questioned or made to feel inferior.
KC: What’s your day job? What do you like about it? What’s challenging?
I’ve been working full-time at OUTSaskatoon for the past two years, first as the Youth & Education Coordinator, and now solely as the Education Coordinator. This opportunity has given me the gift of meeting and working with hundreds of queer and trans youth here in Saskatoon and across our province. These youth have taught me so much about the power of community, resiliency, and fierce love. As the Education Coordinator my work is primarily around working in partnership with school divisions, health regions, non-profits and businesses throughout the province, educating teachers, health professionals and employers on how to integrate queer and trans inclusive practices into everyday work. I’ve also spent the last two years developing new resources, including OUTSaskatoon’s Safe Space Kit, and a month-by-month meeting guide for gay-straight alliances/gueer-straight alliances.
This year a lot of my work will actually be focused on providing training and consultation to SIGA (Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority) and the Saskatoon Police. OUTSaskatoon has recently partnered with SIGA to provide diversity training and consultation to all SIGA staff, so I’ll be spending a lot of time in casinos! I’m also going to be providing training and educational resources to all employees at Saskatoon Police. Queer and trans communities have always had complex histories and experiences with police and OUTSaskatoon has been doing a lot of work to listen to our communities and then work with the police so they can better understand the communities’ experiences of police and policing. I’m feeling nervous and intimidated about providing the training and taking on the role of trying to bridge the clear gap, but I strongly believe that it’s OUTSaskatoon’s job to navigate this complex role. So hopefully I do the community justice and am able to convey our histories, experiences, and concerns in an effective way.
KC: What’s important to you?
People and community. I feel best and work best when I feel connected to others and when working towards the goal of making our spaces better for everyone. I’ve organized and worked in many spaces that were or still are toxic. These spaces and these ways of organizing were never productive and while they may have produced some successes, any hope of long-term success and solidarity building was never successful. I strongly believe in an intersectional approach to everything. Identities matter. We are different people. Let’s recognize our differences, our strengths, so that we can build communities that honour people first and tackle issues second. I think we’ll be more successful if we do.
KC: What do you like most/least about Saskatoon?
I love the people who live here and who are committed to making their communities, neighbourhoods, and workplaces better for everyone. There are so many incredibly inspiring, feisty, hilarious, and brilliant people who are deeply committed to carving out positive spaces and lifting up the voices of others. I love people and I’m crazy about the people here in Saskatoon.
I dislike the dichotomies that exist and only serve to exacerbate the issues within our city. Whether it be west-side versus east-side or the stark political differences in our city, I wish we could break down the us versus them mentality.
KC: What is your impression of Regina?
Regina is home to some of the absolute best people I know, so I love visiting our prairie capital.
KC: How do you survive the winters?
Layers, thick socks, coffee, hot chocolate, blankets, cuddling, and holiday music. As a person who is naturally quite physically cold, I used to hate the winter. However I’ve come to respect Mother Nature and her need to change through the seasons; to grow, to change, and to rest. It’s a lesson that I’d love to internalize in my own life.
(From the Proust Questionnaire): What do you value most in your friends?
Humour, vulnerability, solidarity, and a love of food. My heart is happiest when I’m laughing with friends or having deep conversations, while eating delicious food and having a glass of red wine.