How Jessie Goyette’s Team Efforts Make Hamilton Safer For Queers
The Indigenous schoolteacher works in overdose prevention…
By: Al Donato
Jessie Goyette has come a long way since her first foray into activism. As a child who was horrified about animal cruelty, she took it upon herself to be a lone protester on the streets of Hamilton, Ont. She fondly recalls wearing a Smurf mask (a fashion choice requested by her dad, to protect her identity) while talking to passersby about animal rights outside a KFC restaurant.
Now, the 23-year-old Métis and Algonquin community development worker no longer works solo. Goyette calls herself a bridge, a word that aptly captures how she engages with marginalized communities in her city: mindful of those around her, connecting collective power to those in need of safe passage past obstacles.
Take for instance, how Goyette spent her summer. Just days before our conversation, her overdose and sexual assault prevention initiative Safer Gigs collaborated with other groups to throw a benefit concertin solidarity of “Pride Defenders.” The term references queer activists who were imprisoned or face charges after defending themselves against far-right groups during the city’s Pride celebrations in June. The event successfully brought LGBTQ2S+ community and allies together in raising $2,700 to assist the defenders’ legal fees.
“Existing as a person who is Indigenous, fat and queer informed my understanding of collaboration. Community and mutual care are important,” she tells IN. “Nothing I’ve ever done has been about me as an individual taking on a project.”
Co-founded with musician Vince Soliveri in 2017, Safer Gigs has been welcomed with open arms to the city’s music scene. Seeing their booth at a festival or a show – packed with naloxone kits, pamphlets about consent, and tips for reacting to a crisis – is a visible sign to attendees that the space prioritizes their right to a safe, fun night out.
The impact Safer Gigs has is compounded by the locals it teams up with. Its harm reduction supplies are sourced from the Hamilton AIDS Network. Other collaborators include The Tower (an anarchist space), the Feminist Zine Fair (a sex work action project) and SACHA (a centre for sexual assault survivors).
“When people in our community tell our booths about the terrible things that happen to them at events, I’ll say, ‘Oh, go check out SACHA, they have really awesome support,’” she says, as an example of how these reciprocal relationships work. This approach recognizes that LGBTQ2S+ lives don’t exist in silos and, therefore, service providers shouldn’t either.
When she’s not spending her days in the classroom as a Grade 1 teacher or her nights tabling for Safer Gigs, Goyette keeps herself plenty busy with photography, stand-up comedy and embroidery. She also runs the Plus Size Flea Market, the first event of its kind for the city. Family bonding is also important, but even that time is spent as advocacy; she remembers bringing her father, who felt disconnected from his Indigenous identity because of intergenerational trauma, to a demonstration against pipelines for the first time. With not much spare time left over, Goyette names her naked sphinx cat, Jonathan, as a source of joy who is “chaotic, ridiculous, and has so much love to give.”
“I was reflecting on how scared my dad was when I was little and wanting to do these demonstrations. And then here he is, exploring his own identity with me out there doing that,” she says, happy that a part of her life is now also a part of his.
Another bonus? No Smurf mask this time.
When asked what she hopes for her city’s future, Goyette emphasized the need for Hamilton’s police officers and city council to be held accountable by its queer and trans residents.
“I want everyone in this city to feel supported, safe, and like they can exist,” she says.
AL DONATO is a queer non-binary journalist. Born and raised in Toronto, they’re currently an associate editor at HuffPost Canada. They adore bubble tea, anti-oppression, their nanay’s cooking and queer dance nights.