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Third from the left, wearing pink, is Calla Barnett. Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

Community Builders: Why we love Ottawa LGBTQ2+ leader Calla Barnett

By Stephanie Dong on August 23, 2018


Stephanie Dong is one of Apt613’s correspondents at United Way Ottawa. With its Community Builder Award program, United Way Ottawa honours Ottawa’s outstanding volunteers: the organizations, partnerships, agencies, neighbourhood groups and individuals who work tirelessly to make our city a better place for everyone.

Calla Barnett’s colleagues describe her as the glue that holds people together. Her positivity and dedication to changing lives for the better has inspired others to do the same, making her the ideal community leader. And while there are many reasons why the team at United Way Ottawa was honoured to present Calla with a Community Builder Award at a Capital Pride Week event last week, we thought it would be best to narrow it down to our top three.

Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

1. Calla was a founder of the Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity

Back in 2005, a young Calla and six other LGBTQ2+ youth came together to create Jer’s Vision: Canada’s Youth Diversity Initiative. Aimed at supporting Canadian LGBTQ+ youth, this initiative provided support and services to people who had previously felt lost and alone. No longer would they be silenced or judged—instead, they had a place to call home; a place where they belonged.

With Calla behind the scenes dealing with policies, procedures and other tasks that make an organization run, the initiative was able to expand rapidly into what is now the Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity (CCGSD).

Calla took the CCGSD to new heights, adding more programs and services than ever before. The Centre expanded its reach, running programs not only throughout Canada, but in the United States as well—helping thousands of LGBTQ2+ youth feel safe, loved and supported.

Barnett is a creative leader and fierce advocate who has already bettered the lives of thousands

2. Her impact is international

After serving as vice-president and then president of CCGSD’s board for three years, Calla decided it was time to share her knowledge and skills with others.

She volunteered with a variety of organizations in the Republic of Cameroon, mainly focused on positively changing women’s lives through empowerment.

3. She’s bringing Canada’s first LGBTQ2+ museum to Ottawa

Thanks to Calla and her team at the CCGSD, Ottawa will be home to Canada’s first official LGBTQ2+ museum in 2021.

Featuring a theatre, performance space, rooms for educational programs and a two-spirit healing lodge, the LGBTQ2+ museum will be more than just a place to showcase history—it will be a place for community building. A museum like this would not be possible without Calla’s groundwork and the support of the CCGSD.

Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

Calla Barnett is a creative leader and fierce advocate who has already bettered the lives of thousands and helped make Ottawa feel like home for many of those in our LGBTQ+ community. We’re so proud to call her a Community Builder, and cannot wait to see what she does next!


Through research, evaluation and partnerships with community experts, United Way Ottawa identifies the root causes of the biggest social challenges facing our community, and helps find solutions that change tens of thousands of lives for the better. One hundred percent of donations stay in Ottawa to help those most in need.