Youth for a Change and the LGBTQ+ leadership in Surrey

Pride flag in Surrey. | Photo courtesy of

Under the guidance of LGBTQ+ activists over the years, the greater Vancouver area has become an increasingly progressive and inclusive region. Jen Marchbank, professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the Simon Fraser University (SFU), and Sylvie Traphan, co-founder of Youth for a Change, have made Surrey the main focus of their efforts.

Marchbank will take part in a discussion panel tracing the history of LGBTQ+ activism in Surrey on Nov. 27 at SFU.

A look back

From the start, former Surrey Pride chairwoman Jen Marchbank outlined the history of queer activism in Surrey, looking back at James Chamberlain’s 1998 fight from a Surrey kindergarten classroom against the Canadian Supreme court as the seed that helped grow it all. That monumental victory changed Canadian laws and set the precedence that ‘tolerance is always age appropriate.’

Tracing Martin Rooney’s support by starting the Ban the Bigots dance to help raise funds for Chamberlain’s legal battle, Marchbank marked that time as the introduction of several future Surrey activists and the birthplace of multiple organizations. Roughly 14 years later, in 2012, Youth for a Change was born. Founded by Traphan and her partner Marchbank, Youth for a Change focuses on the needs of early secondary school student to young adults.

“It was around the time of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign, which was basically trying to give some kind of confidence and support to mostly young people in the U.S. by saying that if you can just stick it out through high school, you can survive as a gay person beyond that,” says Marchbank.

With the It Gets Better campaign as inspiration and the optimism of the youth as a drive, Youth for a Change was born. Over the years Marchbank and Traphan have worked hard to empower youth and create more community activist leaders.

Youth success and continued Surrey pride

Jen Marchbank and Sylvie Traphan | Photo by Dan Wurzer

When reflecting on the journeys taken by youth encountered through the program, Marchbank and Traphan are happy to note many successes including one teen who had been temporarily homeless but persevered and has recently become a certified youth worker.

“One young woman won many awards for her work on youth mental health. [Two] SFU students [both] won awards and social justice scholarships. They won the Carla Poppin and the Rosemary Brown awards. The group itself won the PAMA and the Order of the Maple Leaf,” says Marchbank.

Marchbank and Traphan have also collaborated with other activists to form QUIRK-E, helping to create Canada’s first LGBTQ educational materials about elder abuse and various other materials on the plight of marginalized elders. Their work has culminated in Basically Queer: an introduction to intergenerational LGBTQ2S+ lives.

They are also quick to acknowledge many of their local activist counterparts including Alex Sangha, founder of Sher Vancouver, who, alongside two young local women have produced a documentary called My Name was January, which brings to light the life, friendships and work of a New Westminster filipina transgender woman whose life was tragically cut short by violence.

Marchbank will be joining James Chamberlain, Alex Sangha, Martin Rooney and members of Youth for a Change for an informative evening hosted by SFU’s history department to promote a deeper understanding of Surrey’s fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

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