Job Title: Co-founder of I Dig Your Girlfriend, and Communications and Media Coordinator at Homeward Trust Edmonton
Why She’s Top 40: She gives female-identified women in the LGBTQ community a place to share their stories and connect with allies.
What Do You Like Most About Edmonton?: “I love the coffee and wine stores here but, aside from that, I’d have to say it’s the people. It’s such an awesome community where there’s really only two degrees of separation between people. There’s really no room for pretention.”
When Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith looked to repair her party’s reputation with the Albertan LGBTQ community following the 2012 election, Janelle Aker saw an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. Aker, the co-founder of Edmonton’s first female-identified queer website, I Dig Your Girlfriend, extended an invitation to Smith for a podcast interview for the website. Smith accepted.
While it may come as a surprise for some to hear such a high-profile political figure interviewed on a website-based podcast, Edmontonians who are familiar with Aker’s online presence wouldn’t be shocked. Through her Canadian Web Blog award-winning website, the Grant MacEwan journalism graduate (along with her partner Terah Jans) has quickly become one of the leading voices in Edmonton’s LGBTQ community – simply by giving female-identified individuals in the community a place to share their stories and to find support.
“There is a lot of taboo around sexuality,” says Aker. “And so having that platform for people gives the queer community allies and people who are just struggling with a sibling or their own kid who may be queer, a place to come and say, ‘You know what? It’s not perverse.’ We’re taking the fear out of being queer.”
Aker’s passion for aiding people isn’t limited those in the LBGTQ community either. Along with her volunteer work for HIV Edmonton and her current collaboration with the queer arts festival, Exposure, Aker spends her days in a communications role for Homeward Trust Edmonton. The organization implements the province and city’s 10-year plan to stop and prevent homelessness – a mission for which she has long been passionate. “I jumped at the opportunity with Homeward Trust, because I fell in love with the inner city community back in 2006 while working with Hope Mission,” says Aker, a practicing Buddhist whose three-and-a-half years at the non-profit, followed by a short stint at an online marketing firm, gave her the media skills she harnesses for her work today.
Aker’s hope is that by providing people with information, fostering conversation and ridding people of fear, her work will one day be obsolete. But, until then, she’ll continue to promote the discussion. “If there is something that needs to come out, or needs to be said, I am not afraid to say it.”