Thursday, June 19, 2014; 9:15 to 10:30 am

Panel Presentation: Families: Stories of Social Control and Liberation

Moderator: Chris Veldhoven

How do we each define family? Who tells us what a “real” family can and cannot be or how a family should or should not behave? What happens when our definition of family is different from someone else’s? How are we patrolled? How do we liberate ourselves and each other? How do we balance our own family advocacy with remaining respectful of other family types? And how we can foster healthy individuals within their own definition of family through our professional and personal work?

For years family support work has been moving away from a singularly-defined pathologizing model of family towards a supportive model based on diversity, human rights, affirmation and pride that honours families as their own experts. This year’s opening panel introduces the conference theme, Families Define Themselves.

Four presenters set the stage for conference participants to listen to, share and explore numerous definitions, models, struggles and advocacy strategies within the context of Families. From personal and professional perspectives panelists will explore: democratic parenting, affirming children’s self-knowledge and right to voice within families, violence and the patrolling of gender and sexual identity and expression, struggles when families of origin or service providers do not recognize families of care and choice, and safety about being out or not when one is in a poly family.  They will share their insights about their different families, challenges they and their families face, and examples of what affirmation and advocacy look like from their families’ perspectives. In dialogue with the audience, presenters will address how we can create environments where different families can thrive through being acknowledged and affirmed, being able to express their needs, decrease their isolation, share knowledge and skills, and receive respectful, helpful and equitable service.

Panel Members: Kathy Witterick, Karlene Williams-Clarke, Loree Erickson and Ruth Neustifter

Kathy Witterick

Kathy WitterickKathy Witterick works as a child advocate, violence prevention educator, small business owner and writer.  In 2011, the media reacted to her family’s decision to honour baby Storm’s right to share sex and gender when ready. She volunteers at The 519 Church Street Community Centre in Toronto to engage parents in advocacy for affirmative spaces for all, including gender non-conforming or LGBT children. She’s working on a book about rebel parenting, but her most recent publication is a chapter in Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender Fluid Parenting Practices. Her family spent four months in 2013 without running water or electricity at a community build of an off-the-grid straw bale cabin.  Kathy Witterick unschools her children who are 8, 5 and 3 years old.

 Karlene Williams-Clarke

Karlene Williams ClarkeKarlene Williams-Clarke originates from Kingston, Jamaica, served in the volunteer roles of co-chair and chair respectively of Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals & Gays (J-FLAG) and Women for Women (WfW) for seven years (2002-2009), and was a visible advocate/activist for the human rights of LGBT Jamaicans. Karlene, after arriving in Canada December 2009 to seek refugee protection on the basis of persecution due to her sexual orientation, is still very much a newcomer. She is currently the LGBT Newcomer Community Services Coordinator at The 519 Church Street Community Centre in Toronto where she has been coordinating the LGBT Refugee Program (Among Friends) for the past 3 years. She is also the 2013 Pioneers for Change – LGBTQ Initiative honouree.


Margaret F. (Meg) Gibson

Meg Gibson panel presenter Guelph Sexuality Conference

Meg Gibson is a researcher, teacher, psychotherapist, and queer parent who is currently completing a doctorate at the University of Toronto. Her research with LGBTQ parents of children with ‘special needs’ explores how parents navigate disability services with and on behalf of their kids, and how they think about family, disability, and advocacy. Meg has over ten years of experience as a social worker and therapist and currently has a private practice in the west end of Toronto. Her work has been published in journals including Signs, The British Journal of Social Work, and Disability Studies Quarterly. Most recently she has edited a book collection entitled Queering Motherhood: Narrative and Theoretical Perspectives (forthcoming from Demeter Press).


  Ruth Neustifter

Ruth NeuslifterRuth Neustifter, Ph.D., RMFT is an assistant professor of Couples & Family Therapy, in the department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, at the University of Guelph.  Her work focuses on sexual well-being and survivors of intimate violence, often using qualitative and narrative approaches.  She is the author of the The Nice Girl’s Guide to Talking Dirty (2011) and an upcoming text on the stories of intimate violence survivors in new, non-violent relationships (Routledge Press, 2015).  She enjoys vegan dining, travel, social media, and talking about sex and pleasure in public.



Chris Veldhoven

Chris VeldhovenChris Veldhoven is the Queer Parenting Programs Coordinator at The 519 Church Street Community Centre in Toronto. His work focuses on supporting and celebrating sexual orientation, gender and intersectional complexities in families and children, as well as diverse family structures and formation stories. Chris develops, supervises, designs, facilitates and evaluates a variety of family planning and pre-natal courses, in addition to early years family support programs, events, and related education, support and advocacy services. He has trained across the province and supported related research, knowledge mobilization projects, community development projects and personal inquiries from across the continent and overseas. Chris has been a community educator, developer and advocate since 1989 and is a third generation queer person in his family. Chris is also this year’s (and the first ever) co-chair of the Guelph Sexuality Conference.

Thursday, June 19, 2014; 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm

Gathering Light

Presentation followed by Q & A and book signing

S. Bear BergmanS Bear Bergman Plenary Speaker

Family. How we create it and nurture it, whether our family is original,
chosen, or a hearty blend. Bergman’s stories describe and exalt the lives of
his grandparents, the hilarity of planning his wedding, his Shabbos table,
and the story of Chanukah. At the same time, they make space for our drag
mothers, step-parents emeritus, sperm donor’s parents, spuncles and sparkles
and other queerly related loved ones. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll call
your mother.

S. Bear Bergman is an author, storyteller, and educator working to create
positive, celebratory representations of trans lives. Recent or current
projects include two fabulous children’s storybooks featuring trans-identified kid characters, a performance about loving and living in a queer/ed Jewish family titled Gathering Light, teaching pleasure-positive trans/gender queer sex ed, and his sixth book Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter (Arsenal Pulp, 2013).

Friday, June 20, 2014; 3:15 pm to 4:30 pm

Closing Plenary: Sex Workers and Their Families: What They Need From Us In the Face of the Recent Supreme Court Decision

Amy Lebovitch, Executive Director, Sex Professionals of Canada and Valerie Scott, Legal Co-ordinator, Sex Professionals of Canada

With its ruling on December 20th, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada made its unanimous nine to zero ruling, striking down all three of the prostitution laws, deeming them unconstitutional. In doing so, The Supreme Court acknowledged that sex workers are entitled to safety and that the laws which were stuck down prevented sex workers from taking measures to protect themselves.

We owe this in large part to the Bedford, Lebovitch & Scott landmark challenge to Canada’s prostitution laws. The Conference recognizes the courage and dedication of these women, and the many sex workers, sex work advocates and allies in bringing Canada to this point in history with their legal and advocacy efforts.

We close this year’s conference by hearing from the women who took these laws to task. In the spirit of affirmation, action and advocacy, come hear about the potential impact of this decision on sex workers and their families, and listen to what they need us to do to honour their work, struggles, and safety.

Learn more about issues surrounding the ruling, the journey to it, the challenges ahead, and the government’s possible response. Presenters will share their insights about their different families, challenges they and their families face, and examples of what advocacy looks like.

In dialogue with the audience, presenters will address: their definitions of family; supporting sex worker occupational health and safety; ending violence against sex workers; affirming sex work as a socially beneficial occupation; access to safety, income, and healthcare; examples of calls to action, like those from organizations such as Sex Professionals of Canada and Maggie’s in response to the federal government’s “Public Consultation on Prostitution-Related Offences in Canada”; and how we can create environments where they and their families can thrive and receive respectful, helpful and equitable service.

Amy Lebovich

Amy Lebovitch has been a sex worker, working both on the street and indoors, for the last 17 years. Amy is the Executive Director of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), an unfunded and completely volunteer run sex worker rights group, made up of current and former sex workers, which fights for the elimination of stigma and the full decriminalization of sex work. She was one of the three applicants in the successful Constitutional Challenge which struck down three of the main prostitution related offenses in the criminal code. She believes powerfully in the recognition that sex workers are experts in their own lives and work. She believes strongly that sex worker voices need to be heard and that sex workers must be recognized for the amazing unique people that they are.

Valerie Scott

Valerie Scott made a deliberate choice to enter the sex trade. She liked her career, but, soon realized the primary problem with sex work is its stigmatization.

Since 1985, Valerie has spoken at numerous parliamentary committees, universities, community organizations, and to the media about the need to decriminalize sex work. She is the legal co-ordinator of Sex Professionals of Canada, and is one of the three plaintiff’s in the landmark Charter Challenge, Canada v Bedford.

Valerie hopes for the day when there will be an annual Sex Worker Pride parade, complete with too much corporate sponsorship from communications companies, banks, and grocery store chains. But mostly, she hopes for a day when new SPOC members will ask: “You mean working as a sex worker used to be illegal?”