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Meet these inspiring Pride Champions

June 10, 2023
Pride Champions

Every year, we strive to celebrate and recognize the talent, resilience and contributions of Toronto Metropolitan University’s 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. In honour of Pride Month, we are spotlighting some truly phenomenal alumni and friends for our Pride Champions series.

From a filmmaker and an entrepreneur who share their personal struggles with their identities, to a post-secondary leader who advocates for equity and inclusion, and a PR executive who devotes his time to offer support to members of his community, these individuals are using their work to help empower others. 

Tiffany Hsiung, Film Production ’07
Tiffany Hsiung

Film Production ’07

Tiffany Hsiung (external link, opens in new window)  is a Peabody award-winning filmmaker, listed as one of DOC NYC’s 40 under 40, and a two-time Canadian Screen Award winner. Her film, Sing Me a Lullaby (2020), won the Oscar-qualifying Grand Jury Prize at DOC NYC, the inaugural TIFF Share Her Journey Short Cuts Award and The Directors Guild of Canada Best Short Film Award. Her work has played in more than 150 film festivals, been honoured with over 25 awards, and released and broadcasted globally.

Hsiung’s short film, The Bassinet (external link, opens in new window) , is about her personal struggle with the intersection of her sexual orientation and cultural identity, and the cross-generational burden of having a baby in the context of rigid social constructs of marriage and family. It was part of the National Film Board of Canada’s Five@50, a unique collection of five-minute shorts reflecting on contemporary LGBTQ2+ lives and identities 50 years after the passing of Bill C-150 in 1969, which partially decriminalized homosexuality in Canada.

As a filmmaker and someone who is curious by nature, many of my films explore questions that I am often haunted by or too stubborn to stop asking. My short film, The Bassinet, is the first time when I get personal and share my looming fears of raising a child in a same-sex relationship.

It was important for me to touch on this topic because it isn’t spoken about within the North American 2SLGBTQIA+ community as it is very specific to my Chinese cultural identity. These are complex thoughts that haven’t had much space to be explored or discussed amongst peers in the 2SLGBTQIA+ scene. 

My hope is that The Bassinet can spark a larger conversation amongst groups that may or may not understand the struggles between the intersection of one’s sexual orientation and their cultural identity. And ultimately for viewers that do identify with this theme, my wish is for them to feel seen and heard, something I continue to strive for in all the films I make.

Alon Ozery, Hospitality & Tourism Management ’96
Alon Ozery

Hospitality & Tourism Management ’96
Author; Co-Founder of Ozery Bakery and Parallel Brothers

Alon Ozery is the Co-Founder of Ozery Bakery (external link, opens in new window) , a commercial bakery that sells natural baked goods across North America. He also co-owns the successful Parallel Brothers (external link, opens in new window) , a restaurant and sesame butter brand located in Toronto.

Ozery began exploring his inner self in his mid-30s and is still on that journey today. Born in Toronto to an Orthodox Jewish father and a British mother, raised in Israel and educated in Canada, he didn’t come out of the closet until he had a wife and three children. His brave memoir, Even the Sidewalk Could Tell: How I Came Out to My Wife, My Three Children, and the World (opens in new window) , relates Ozery’s winding journey to discover his true self. A funny, heartwarming tale of honest self-reflection, this book shows what it means — and what it ultimately takes — to claim self-acceptance, create inner peace and march forward into the best version of yourself.

I’m hoping that by reading my memoir, people will be able to realize how important it is to live an authentic life. In my case, I was suppressing my sexuality up until my mid-30s. Others may be living inauthentic lives in their professional life, with their spouse or any other area in their lives. In the book I share the costs that come with faking it through life. I hope that reading the book will help people realign their own lives.

Jen McMillen, Vice-Provost, Students, Toronto Metropolitan University
Jen McMillen

Vice-Provost, Students,
Toronto Metropolitan University

Jen McMillen is a senior post-secondary leader with more than 20 years experience in student affairs, human rights and policy development. A strong advocate for equity and inclusion, she believes that student achievements are closely linked to an active student community.

As Vice-Provost, Students, McMillen oversees the direction of multiple units dedicated to ensuring student programs, experiences and services are of the highest quality and readily accessible to all students. Her main areas of responsibility are the Office of the Registrar, Athletics and Recreation, Student Affairs, Student Wellbeing and International Enrolment.

McMillen joined TMU in 2019 from Humber College, where she was the Dean of Students, and was also a founding member of the Positive Space Committee at Brock University, where she served as a human rights and equity officer. She frequently speaks and consults on issues such as diversity, leadership, team and trust building, communication and civic responsibility. 

Within our division, a key priority is how we help to create the conditions so that students can bring their whole selves to this community — as they live, work and study at TMU. We know that is critically important for 2SLGBTQIA+ students and often something they haven’t experienced before. We also know that many queer students choose this university because of that commitment, our values and our integration with the local 2SLGBTQIA+ community. We are very intentional about the ways we engage with students from the outset — for example, using pronouns in a way to never assume a student’s gender identity — until they make it clear. 

Individually and as a senior leader at TMU, I try to share my own identity as a queer woman openly and often. I use my position to ensure that 2SLGBTQIA+ students can see themselves reflected in the university’s leadership, and so that they can know that our community is celebrated and supported here. I do that by amplifying formal programs like Day of Pink (external link, opens in new window)  (2023), by engaging students in conversation like in this Day of Pink fireside chat (external link, opens in new window)  (2022), as well as by simply living in my own skin — whether that be in the way I dress, how I talk about my kids or my partner, or having rainbows in my office. I know that visibility matters and I try to remember that it can have an impact on students — wherever they may be on their own identity journeys.

Daniel Pillai, Media & Culture ’10, Vice-President, Langton PR Inc.
Daniel Pillai

Media & Culture ’10
Vice-President, Langton PR Inc.

Daniel Pillai is the Vice-President of Langton PR Inc (external link, opens in new window) . and a celebrated host, writer and producer. From interviewing the biggest names in pop culture to telling his personal story of trials and triumph as a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, he is relentlessly passionate about leveraging the power of personal narrative as a tool for self-acceptance.

As an out and proud 2SLGBTQIA+ advocate, Pillai devotes his time to offering support and guidance to members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community struggling with their identities and sexualities. He has spoken at the University of Michigan, the Canadian Centre of Gender & Sexual Diversity, the cities of Brampton and Mississauga and the Peel HIV/AIDS Network. He also continually partners with various organizations nationwide and internationally to help support 2SLGBTQIA+ initiatives and foster equality.

In addition, Pillai created The He/She Project, which highlighted his experiences with bullying and chronicled his empowerment journey of self-acceptance through androgynous representations of masculinity and femininity.

I truly believe that as individuals, we find the most success when we are allowed to be our authentic selves. As adults, this permission is in our hands; we need to grant ourselves the right to embrace our identity, our sexuality, our feelings, and our thoughts, and with it all, embrace the opportunities available to us too. 

As children, we rely on our parents and our elders for that support, but as we grow up, that permission and that right sits in our hands. It’s important for me to be a voice for the voiceless and also set an example for what being proud and authentic truly means. It doesn’t always have to be this painstakingly radical self-expression that comes at the cost of all the things you value the most. It really is in the simplicity of living and loving life the way we want to.