Deirdre Pike: A true community champion

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Deirdre Pike’s fascination for sharing stories drives who she is and what she does as both a Senior Social Planner for the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton (SPRC) and columnist for The Hamilton Spectator. In both roles, Pike sees it as her responsibility to facilitate conversation and to improve community engagement. Pike is interested in engaging with others, stimulating discussion and concentrating on being fully present. Through this approach, Pike has distinguished herself as a notable social activist and community champion.

Vocation, not career

In her role at the SPRC, Pike identifies “social trends and issues in Hamilton and finds collaborative ways to address them”. Her work focuses primarily on poverty elimination, healthy development of children and youth, housing and homelessness, equity and inclusion and anti-oppression for the LGBTQ community. One of her most recent projects includes Hamilton Tastebuds Student Nutrition Collaborative; it unites and partners with community agencies and members to facilitate nutrition programs in local schools. Formerly known as Hamilton Partners in Nutrition (HPIN), the program hosts nutrition programs in 144 locations across the city, including 30 schools. To date, over 23,000 children have benefited from Tastebud’s breakfast program.

Using evidence-based research, Pike aims to create a self-sufficient community with the capacity to converse and drive social change. When taking on the position in 2001, Pike believed that it would serve as a transitional period from working 14 years as a pastoral associate. However, a number of transferable skills from her background with the church applied to the title. Pike was clear to note that she does not consider her work as a social planner a career, but rather a vocation.

Deirdre Pike amplifies the voice of the LGBTQ communities through her work with the City's volunteer committees (Photo by: Karima Yacoub)

Deirdre Pike amplifies the voice of the LGBTQ communities through her work with the City’s volunteer committees (Photo by: Karima Yacoub)

Owning one’s identity

Growing up, Pike found comfort in a faith-based community and at the age of sixteen was baptized as a Roman Catholic. With a degree from the University of Brescia College in Religious Studies, Pike contributed 14 years of work as a pastoral associate. For the majority of her time as a pastoral associate, Pike confessed that she remained closeted. To her, the first moment of freedom took place during confession while away on a religious retreat.

It was Pike’s pursuit for freedom that eventually led her to come to terms with her sexuality and eventually, leaving her job as a pastoral associate. Regardless, she remains a member of the parish.

She shares, “Every time I met more women who seemed more free about who they were than me, I came out a little bit more”. To Pike, being queer is more of a social concern than that of a professional one, because of unknown reactions from revealing her sexuality. Pike describes coming out as a lifelong process, an action that takes place every day. As a professional, Pike has been both fired and hired for being a lesbian.

Being proud and celebrating one’s own sexual orientation

Last year in a CBC Hamilton article, Pike stated, “…there are many adults who can’t yet be openly gay in the workplace”. As Co-Chair of the Hamilton Positive Space Collaboration (HPSC), Pike challenges organizations to assess current workplace policies and procedures, while questioning whether or not the work environment is a positive space. The HSPC provides tools, resources, training for staff to assist with organizations gaining LGBTQ cultural competency. As a voice of the LGBTQ community, Pike explains that she is not a representative for the community as a whole, but rather a voice for her community of communities.

Through this leadership position, Pike wants to let the marginalized be heard, encourage others to accept being counter-cultural and change the homogenous perception of the LGTBQ community. Pike explains the importance of identifying and celebrating separately as either lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer and recognizing the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. In doing so, parents and teachers can learn how to provide necessary support for youth questioning their own feelings and sexuality.

“Spend time to ensure that your voice is authentically you, and once you know that voice, use it to speak for those who are voiceless,” Pike advises.

Deirdre Pike's remarkable legacy involves, standing up and speaking out against anti-oppression for the LGBTQ Community

Deirdre Pike’s remarkable legacy involves, standing up and speaking out against anti-oppression for the LGBTQ Community

Impactful Community leadership

After moving from place to place in Southern Ontario, Pike decided to make a life in Hamilton because of it being a progressive city, open to change. She had a natural connection to the urban centre and, fuelled by environmental circumstances, a desire to improve social justice.

As a community leader, Pike looks to actively fill the void of both women in leadership and queer leadership. Although she is a recipient of both the Diamond Jubilee Award Medal and Pride Citizen of the Year, Pike continues to reminisce about her first community award, from the Mayor’s Committee Against Racism and Discrimination. It was this award that inspired Pike to transform her thinking from lending a hand within her church community to that of the greater community.

It is Pike’s philosophy to “always remember to love your neighbour as you would yourself” that has encouraged her to continue reaching out to her community.

By being involved in community organizations such as the LGBTQ Community Wellness Centre of Hamilton and Hamilton Organizing for Poverty Elimination, Pike finds a balance by playing hard and working hard. By way of spiritual grounding, self-reflection and setting goals greater than yourself, Pike believes in finding a balance between making time for yourself and seeking what it is that you can do for others.

Laura is a University of Guelph alumna with an Honors Degree in Theatre Studies. She is interested in attempting to understand and express life through art.