Elijah Matheson, a fourth-year human rights and journalism major, has a long history of activism that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Matheson was honoured with the New Brunswick Young Humanitarian award earlier this month, for their efforts helping the LGBTQ community.
When Matheson found out they’d won the award, it was a surprise. They were originally nominated in high school by Bruce Van Stone, the anti-bullying coordinator for the Department of Education.
“I didn’t realize that they kept the nominations and carried them over every year, so it was actually a huge surprise,” Matheson said.
Matheson first dabbled into activism at Sir James Dunn Academy in St. Andrews, when they became the chair of the Gay Straight Alliance in Grade 11.
“That sort of was a good opportunity which I’m glad I took,” Matheson said.
Initially, Matheson was hesitant to join, despite the good climate for LGBTQ students at the school. At the time there was a stigma surrounding groups like this. Matheson said if you joined, people automatically assumed you were gay.
“I was sort of scared to really get involved … there weren’t a lot of out, really open people.” When Matheson first got involved with the GSA they hadn’t come out yet.
While Matheson was the president of the group, social events were held to break down the barrier between allies and members of the LGBTQ community. The goal was to stop the stigma surrounding joining the GSA.
Matheson also worked on campaigning the Department of Education to implement an anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia and anti-harassment policy. They worked on getting more inclusive curriculum throughout middle and high schools, and teamed up with Egale Canada to create a LGBTQ inclusion handbook for teachers to use as a resource.
Matheson’s activism continued when they came to St. Thomas University. In their second year, they started the Queer and Allied People’s Society on campus, with fellow students Olivier Hébert and Al Cusack.
All of this work was recognized at The Power of Humanity Awards Dinner in Saint John. Matheson was surrounded by those involved with the Red Cross, supportive friends and family and fellow Power of Humanity recipient Glenn Cooke.
They were shown a video compiled of interviews of those involved in their life and activism throughout the years.
Professor and LGBTQ resource advisor Erin Fredericks, partner Olivier Hébert, high school mentor Shawn Corey and their best friend and parents were all featured in the video.
“It was really cool to see my teacher from high school talk about the impact that [my work] had and that it still has on students there … because that’s like three years ago now,” Matheson said.
Matheson gave an acceptance speech full of thank you’s and acknowledged those who made their involvement possible.
“I am able to do the work that I do because of so many people that have done work before me and the people I do work with everyday that support me.”
Matheson hopes being granted this award will put LGBTQ activism in the spotlight in New Brunswick, and other LGBTQ activists will get the same recognition.
“There was a bit of a feeling of like, [there] are so many people that do this work that don’t get nominated for these sort of things,” Matheson said.
Although it can be draining to juggle activism with school and work, it’s rewarding for Matheson.
“It’s just really inspiring for me to keep doing the work that I’m doing even when it’s difficult.”
They recognize despite the work they’ve done there is still a lot of work left to do.
“I don’t think I’ll ever really be done with activism, I’ve tried to take breaks from it and I always get drawn back in because there are so many important issues in the queer community.”