Community Spotlight: The Pride Centre of Edmonton

Interview with Esjay Lafayette, Executive Director of the Pride Centre of Edmonton


Tell us about yourself and your organization!

My name is Esjay Lafayette (he/him) and I am the Executive Director of the Pride Centre of Edmonton (PCE). I joined the PCE team in 2020 as the Operations Manager and became the ED in October 2022—prior to that, I worked as an electrician but a combination of factors (turning 40, the brink of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter movement) motivated me to change careers. I wanted to dedicate my time and skillset to helping the community rather than just making money for an industry, which aligned with an opportunity at the PCE. With the expertise of Pe Metawe Consulting, we are implementing a new strategic plan, committed to the advancement of all 2SLGBTQIA+ people but with a specific focus on three key groups: youth, trans and gender diverse people, and queer asylum seekers and newcomers. When I’m not at work, you can find me hanging out with my partner, two teenagers, and dog, Samson; skateboarding, or watching reruns of M.A.S.H. and The Golden Girls.


What kinds of programs and support does the Pride Centre offer, and how do you see the impact of these programs?

The PCE offers an accessible, trauma-informed, judgement-free space and support systems for people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions, and the people in their lives. Our programming includes:

  • Free drop-in counselling sessions every Tuesday and Thursday with intern therapists, via our partnership with The Family Centre;
  • In-person and virtual youth programming (ages 13 to 24) every Wednesday evening;
  • Gender affirming wares programming which includes a community closet – people can access second-hand garments and jewelry, new undergarments, toiletries, and seasonal clothing at absolutely no cost;
  • The Binder Exchange Program, which provides community members with gently used binders, gift cards for gender affirming gear, and binder fittings and education for safe wear, free of charge;
  • The largest queer library in Alberta, which includes YA fiction and books for children 12 and under, is available to the PCE members — memberships are $25 or sliding scale. We also offer fee waivers, so memberships are accessible to all;
  • Support for queer asylum seekers through a partnership with EMCN’s (Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers) Rainbow Refuge program and LGBTQ+ Newcomers Group, and support letters for refugee hearings and advocacy work;
  • Information and referral wayfinding, from housing to food insecurity.

During public hours, people can utilize various equipment and services in our space, including: washing facilities and public washrooms, computers and charges, printing, a games room, a sensory room, art supplies, light refreshments, a community kitchen for baking and cooking, and a community fridge, freezer, and pantry.

At the PCE, we see the impacts of our programming on a daily basis—by meeting people where they are at, we’re able to mitigate a lot of loneliness and isolation. By developing trust and healthy relationships with community members and other organizations, we’re able to build connections, bridge gaps, and remove barriers to resources. Safety is one of our top priorities, therefore the resources and information we provide to community members is vetted to the best of our ability, as are the people and collectives we collaborate with.


Like YESS, the Pride Centre has a long legacy in Edmonton. How does the centre continue to evolve to meet the needs of the community? Why is it important to still have dedicated safe spaces for the 2SLGBTQ+ community?

In addition to our new strategic plan, the PCE has applied for support from Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) to action this plan. We are also working with CASA on a one-year pilot program that will provide community members with access to a registered social worker.

These steps were taken after engaging with community and gathering feedback—our evolution, as both an organization and as frontline workers, is directly linked to listening, observing, believing, and responding accordingly to those who access our services and programs.

Ironically, increased societal acceptance and queer visibility has created more danger for, particularly, identifiable 2SLGBTQIA+ people. The political climate in the States has a contingent in Alberta that is vocally homophobic, especially towards trans and gender diverse folks which creates safety issues. Most of the community members who access the PCE do not have social capital. They are typically lower income with intersecting identities, and their queerness is just the cherry on top of all the other barriers they face. These community members in particular deserve dedicated safe spaces to engage in human connection without the threat of being targeted for who they fundamentally are. It’s also important that a city the size of Edmonton and the surrounding areas provide multiple safe spaces for the queer community that include options for youth under 18 and don’t involve alcohol.


Pride is about activism, but it is also a celebration! What is the impact of the 2SLGBTQ+ community having opportunities to celebrate themselves and share joy?

Just like hurt and pain are integral to the human experience, so is joy and celebration. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, and even more so for those generations before me, there was virtually no diverse queer representation, and limited opportunities to come together and celebrate in safety. Historically, our pain and suffering was focused on. We were often depicted as sick and/or dangerous. My mom struggled immensely when I came out as trans. She worried terribly that I could not live a fulfilling life as a trans person. Her experience is not unique for many guardians of queer folks, but also for queer people themselves. These feelings of despair are directly a result of the absence of balanced, truthful representations of queer people and our experiences. The impact of people openly expressing and celebrating who they are helps counter the myth that being queer equals an unhappy life, it provides hope for people who do not feel safe or ready to come out, and it is a form of speaking truth to power. There are a lot of people in power locally and globally who still don’t want us around, so queer joy and celebration is absolutely a form of resistance.


What is one thing you wish the community knew about the Pride Centre?

There is a lot of diversity amongst the PCE community. We serve a large demographic of people, with many intersecting identities and barriers, but our team is small. There are four core staff members, myself included, striving to make deep, systemic changes in the way our organization operates while continuing to offer frontline services and balance our own wellbeing. However, we are beginning to run on fumes, and our financial situation is currently precarious—donations are greatly needed, as is advocating for the PCE, so we can continue to evolve and expand and increase our capacity, which will ultimately increase the impact of the work we do.

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The Importance of Pride at YESS

Interview with Ash Dafoe, Youth Worker

Tell us about yourself and your position at YESS!

Hello, my name is Ash (she/they) and I’m a youth worker at the Armoury Resource Centre. I get to support our youths with connecting to resources and programming. 


What particular principles or processes does YESS have to ensure that programs are a safe space for youth who identify as 2SLGBTQ+ and may be on a journey of healing when it comes to their sexuality or gender identity?

YESS provides a safe space for youth who are a journey of self-discovery through inclusive language, resources, and programming. We strive to provide gender affirming care with support from our allies. The diversity in us as front-line workers who have and are continuing to walk this journey while welcoming and empowering youth to grow in their own ways, creates a positive impact on our surrounding community, and the lives of our youths. 


Why is it important to create this kind of safety for youth? Both in YESS programs and in the wider community?

We at YESS stand on our non-judgmental policy and teach others to view differences as the wholly beautiful human experiences that they are. When we work to integrate our youth into their local communities, we hope they carry these life lessons with them, making those communities more diverse, inclusive, and caring. 


Pride is about activism, but it is also a celebration! What is the impact of 2SLGBTQ+ youth having opportunities to celebrate themselves and share joy?

As we support these youth on their journeys, and by unconditionally accepting them into our community, we are empowering them to love themselves. When someone is truly accepted, truly welcomed to the table, and they come to love their whole self, this is what makes the world a better place. 


What is one thing you wish the community knew about youth who access YESS? 

I would love for the community to know that each and every one of the youth who have accessed YESS deserve to feel unconditionally loved, welcomed to the table, and empowered to love exactly who they are, right now, and in the future. 

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The Importance of Indigenous History Month

Interview with Nicole Radke, YESS Team Lead

June is Indigenous History Month, and June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day! Approximately half of the youth who access YESS are Indigenous (First Nations, Métis, Inuit), and we know that access to culturally specific experiences either through YESS staff or through partner organizations can be an important asset on the journey towards healing and a positive community.


Tell us about yourself and your position at YESS!

My name is Nicole Radke I come from a background of Cree/German parents, and I am currently the Team Lead at the Armoury Resource Centre.


What particular principles or processes does YESS have to ensure that programs are a safe space for Indigenous youth who may be on a journey of healing that includes their culture, their family, their extended relations, etc.?

We have been building relationships with different Indigenous agencies so we can provide our Indigenous youth ample opportunities to learn about their culture. We offer supplies they would need to practice their culture and will go to different ceremonies with them. One in particular has been our Land Connection where we learn about Mother Earth and get to connect. Our programs are able to provide [cultural or spiritual] medicine for the youth when it is needed. The staff at YESS are open and listen to the youth so we can learn about their practices and teachings. We recognize not everyone has the same teachings. We exist in a non-judgemental environment and give space so they know that they can determine their own journey of healing, we simply walk with them, learn with them, learn from them, and support them.


Why is it important to create this kind of safety for youth? Both in YESS programs and in the wider community?

Representation is so important when it comes to creating a safe space for the youth. There has recently been significant awareness brought to the Indigenous community and the mistreatment that stemmed from colonization, which was hidden for years. To be allies we need to provide space that is safe for our youth and provide a space where they know they can learn about their culture, they can share their culture, and that they can do this without stigmatization. Healing comes from reconnection and balancing. YESS gives this space to the youth by listening to their voices and hearing about what practices they would like to see in our agency. We have seen youth reconnect with culture because they were in a safe space, and we have seen them transition into independence and are leading the most beautiful lives filled with culture and stability.


Indigenous History Month is about activism, but it is also a celebration! What is the impact of youth having opportunities to celebrate themselves and share in the joys and practices of their culture?

We get to see their beautiful spirits. There is nothing that will give you more chills than when a youth is excited to speak about their culture and the exciting things they have done to celebrate it, whether it be attending pow wows and competing, beading, attending sweat lodges, going to round dances, or simply sharing stories about their ancestors. When we give them this space it gives them a chance to know that they are heard, and we care. I also love learning their native tongue from them. By giving them the opportunity to celebrate themselves we are making sure that they know they are seen, and we hear them.


What is one thing you wish the community knew about youth who access YESS?

They are some of the most incredible humans you could ever encounter. They are selfless, compassionate, caring, emotionally intelligent, and kind. These youth would give the shirt off their own back for someone else who was more in need. I would describe the youth at YESS as “bears”: they are protectors and always look out for those they care about. Most of these youth have been dealt difficult hands, but they have the skill set to manage these hands and they often are able to succeed while at the same time being the most caring human beings. The youth who access our services are some of the most resourceful humans you could ever come across. I would encourage people to just have a conversation with them and you would see how incredible they are.

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June Message from Margo

Hello everyone, and happy June!


As June celebrates Pride month and also Indigenous History Month, with National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, this is a particularly special time at YESS. Though safety and wellness and YESS means that we honour gender expression, sexuality, culture, spirituality, and personal exploration all year round, Pride and Indigenous History Month create a community-wide opportunity for youth to live these aspects of their lives out loud. In this month’s issue, you will hear about the practices in our programs that create safe, non-judgemental for all youth, all year round. Our team members in YESS Programs, Nicole Radke and Ash Dafoe, talk specifically about the importance and impact of creating safe spaces for youth who are Indigenous and youth who identify as 2SLGBTQ+. We also put our community spotlight on the Pride Centre of Edmonton and interview Executive Director Esjay Lafayette about their new strategic plan to build and provide safe spaces.

We hope you have a wonderful Pride, Indigenous History Month, and first day of summer!


YESS Executive Director Margo Long's signature

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