First gay marriage supported by CIBC - Diversity Award for "courage in changing the world"






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Advocacy News - Awards - First gay marriage was supported by CIBC

July 19, 2021

First gay marriage was supported by CIBC
Diversity Award for "courage in changing the world"

By Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell

We were in Greece, where we had gone to attend the 51st annual Eurovision Song Contest, when CIBC's 2006 Diversity Awards were presented in Toronto (May 29). It made us proud to be among the bank's honoured list but, with regret, we were unable to attend in person.

We frequently write and speak about the support we have received from CIBC, beginning in 2000, when we first became advocates for same-sex marriage. The gala dinner would have been a wonderful opportunity for us to meet some of the people who had been key contributors to the creation of such a welcoming work environment.

Joe Varnell and Kevin Bourassa with Jacob  Miles and Mark Gardner (Photo by, 2006)
Joe Varnell and Kevin Bourassa in New York with Mark Gardner and Jacob Miles (center), founders of the New York Chapter of the CIBC Pride Network, and fellow recipients of the 2006 Diversity Awards.

Tim Moseley, CIBC's Chief Compliance Officer (and executive cosponsor of the CIBC Pride Network) said the evening was a celebration of "the unique achievements of individuals who have gone above and beyond expectations in advancing diversity as a business ideal at CIBC. The people we are honouring tonight are those who undertook extraordinary efforts to ensure that CIBC met its objectives in creating a fair and inclusive workplace."

We thank Amy Hanen, Catherine Gardner, Milé Komlen, John Lemmon, Tim Moseley, Robin Stewart and Richard Venn for this honour, and we express our gratitude to staff and management at CIBC for advancing acceptance of diversity in workplaces and communities across Canada and beyond. Congratulations to the other recipients of the 2006 Diversity Awards, with our appreciation for your valued contribution.

By Richard Mteki, Zimbabwe

"Reflecting" by Richard Mteki, Zimbabwe (Photo by, 2006)

Each one unique and original, the CIBC 2006 Diversity Awards were created by noted Zimbabwe artist Richard Mteki [pronounced "ma-TEK-ee"], and are made from Tengenenge Serpentine [pronounced "tengen-ENG-gay SUR-pen-teen"]. The awards symbolize the powerful symbols and distinct personalities in traditional African culture and represent the strength of Black people around the world. (They are also very heavy!) The sculptures are handcrafted by Mteki, whose work has been acclaimed both locally (in Zimbabwe) and internationally.

In 1986 Mteki was commissioned by the Zimbabwean government to create a piece for the National Sports Stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe. In 1982, one of his pieces was selected as the gift to be presented to the Nigerian head of state on an official visit to Zimbabwe. In 1984, the government once again selected Mteki's work with a piece that was presented to the late Rajiv Ghandi on the opening of the Non-Aligned Movement summing in Harare.

Mteki's sculptures are generally peaceful - they do not disturb, but rather leave the viewer feeling calm and content. His work is filled with a gentle spiritual presence. Usually small and compact, their message is much larger than their scale. Having been sculpting for over 25 years, Mteki is a master of stone carving - the strength and fluidity of his lines constantly bear witness to his own lived experience.

Recently, we gathered a few friends and hosted our own little celebration, where Milé Komlen, from CIBC's Employment Equity and Diversity group, gave us with this beautiful award accompanied by the following citation, originally delivered by Mr. Moseley at CIBC's 2006 Diversity Awards:

"Kevin and Joe are local celebrities at CIBC because they carry the distinction of being the first legally-married same-sex couple in the world. In challenging the common law definition of marriage, they brought their claim for equality to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which contributed to the Parliament of Canada's decision to legalize marriage between same-sex couples. They were both CIBC employees at the time, and have always highlighted the support they received from their employer at a time when they were making national headlines.

"In addition to this claim to fame, however, Kevin and Joe have also been ardent advocates of equality and diversity at CIBC. They agreed to be the keynote speakers on the topic of same sex marriage at CIBC's first-ever Dialogue on Diversity series. They were also founding members of the CIBC Pride Network - CIBC's first employee Affinity Group - and they have always been available to spread the message of diversity whenever they are asked to. They [spoke] to employees in CIBC's New York Offices in mid-June as part of CIBC's global celebration of Diversity Month. They have also served as role models for other employees seeking to be themselves at work.

"Kevin and Joe, the award to be presented to you tonight is entitled Reflecting. An important part of African (and indeed any) culture, personal reflection allows us to look within ourselves in order to cultivate inner strength and wisdom.

"Reflecting on the contributions the two of you have made allows us to understand that courage can be measured by a commitment to changing people's perceptions of the world around them, to creating new understandings of the struggles we all face in our lives.

"For your unwavering commitment to changing mindsets in the face of opposition and hatred; for reaching out to others who are struggling with issues of identity at work; and for your courage in changing the world in your own way, it is with great pleasure that we present the two of you with the 2006 CIBC Diversity Awards."

CIBC's Pride Network marching in 2006 Pride Toronto.  We have marched with CIBC in 2004 Pride Toronto and 2004 Pride Halifax parades (Photo by, 2006)
CIBC's Pride Network marching in 2006 Pride Toronto. We have marched with CIBC in 2004 Pride Toronto and 2004 Pride Halifax parades.

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