An interview with Jeremy Dias

Friday, January 15, 2016
Jeremy Dias talks to Museum staff about his own experiences with bullying and the work he is doing to stop homophobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination, such as The Gay Sweater project.

Jeremy Dias is a busy man.  When I sat down to interview him at the Museum on November 5, 2015 he had already experienced a very full day, crammed with forums, presentations, media interviews, oral history interviews and a Museum tour.  Despite a schedule that would tire out many folks, Jeremy was warm and engaging, ready to answer all my questions.

For many years now, Jeremy has been using his passion and energy to work for human rights.  He is the founder of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD) and is featured as Canadian human rights defender in Speak Truth to Power Canada, an online teaching resource for Canadian schools.  I was honoured to have the chance to ask Jeremy some questions about his work, the Museum and human rights.

Two men pose beside one another for a photograph in front of a blank wall.  The man on the left is taller with grey hair, is wearing an unbuttoned cardigan-style sweater and has his left arm around the other man’s shoulder.
Museum President & CEO John Young (left) tries on The Gay Sweater and poses for a photo with Jeremy Dias.

Q. Why are human rights so important to you?

I think human rights play a critical role in the Canadian identity.  As a very new country, we’re starting to figure out who we are and what we do.  We’re a country that has defined itself as multicultural for quite a while and we are finding a way to continue that story. I think human rights are a very successful tool to help us explain who we are and what we believe.

Q. Why did you establish the CCGSD and what does it do?

The CCGSD empowers people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities to be the best they can be.  We recognize that many in our community suffer greatly and we want to address that suffering.  We want to ensure everyone within our own community feels included and respected.  We also work with people who don’t understand our community, building allyship amongst them so they can be more respectful and more loving.  We’re proud to do this work through a number of programs, like the International Day of Pink, The Gay Sweater and of course through our classroom workshops, presentations, and forums.

Q. What story or exhibit here at the Museum made a strong impression on you?

I have to say I’d have a hard time picking just one.  It was just an incredible experience.  I think the flow of it worked really, really nicely.  I really appreciate how the Museum approached Indigenous issues, women’s issues and the sex trade.  If I were to pick just one, I think it would be the Canadian Journeys gallery. It was a really great way to snapshot everything, but then still go deep enough into the subjects.  It was an eloquent start to the Museum and set people up to go darker and then find hope again.  And the Harry Potter ramps did not hurt either.

Q. Why should people come and visit the Museum?

I think people should come and visit the Museum because human rights are not just a piece of paper.  It’s a story and a journey and I think that the Museum does an excellent job of taking you on that journey.  Often we canonize individuals who then become the embodiment of a larger movement or a story.  But human rights is about more than just singular people.  The Museum does an excellent job of avoiding that trap and tells the story from a wider perspective.  It’s a very genuine and authentic and honest way of looking at human rights as an ongoing story.

Q.  If there was one thing you could say to Canadian youth, what would it be?

I think that Canadian youth need to recognize that they have to continue the rest of the story.  I think they need to fill up the rest of the Galleries in the Museum.  There is so much work left to be done and they need to be inspired by the torch that is the Museum.  You know, it’s interesting – the tour guide had all kinds of comparisons for the Museum, but for me, it looks like a torch. It’s the flame of the torch and it represents the journey so far.  I think it requires someone to continue running with it.