We are so happy to share the achievement of a key outcome from ELEVATION – MCC Toronto Campaign: the hiring of an inaugural Director of Human Rights, Bennett “BJ” Jensen.
BJ is a recognized leader, accomplished human rights lawyer, and experienced program manager. As senior staff to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, he guided the passage of C-4, the federal criminal ban of so-called “conversion therapy.” While working as the first Pro Bono Associate at a leading New York City law firm, BJ led responses to the Muslim travel ban and the family separation crisis, coordinating teams of hundreds of lawyers. BJ was also the first openly transgender employee at his New York law firm, and the first to transition while at the firm.
BJ has joined the MCC Toronto staff team to lead the development of our new human rights efforts. We asked him to share a few thoughts about why he wanted to join the MCC Toronto team and what he envisions for our expanded human rights work.
Message from BJ
I am thrilled to be coming in as MCC Toronto’s first Director of Human Rights. MCC Toronto has an incredible history of human rights work and has made a difference in so many lives. When I was beginning to explore my own identity, as a young person living in an environment where gender identity was not discussed, I recall coming across the Triangle Program and wishing I had access to such an incredible community. I am humbled to now be working just a few floors away from the Program.
MCC Toronto brings unique tools to the continued fight for freedom, safety and dignity for all: a vibrant community willing to get involved, a physical and metaphorical sanctuary, and a powerful voice that amplifies those less heard. Each of these tools will be critical to our continued and expanded human rights work. I have already had the privilege of meeting some of the participants in our refugee programs and seeing the life-changing effects that MCC Toronto’s efforts have had on their lives. I also know that advocacy by members of the MCC Toronto community has brought about real change for 2SLGBTQ+ rights at the national and international levels. I look forward to joining these efforts and expanding upon these achievements.
I think there is a particularly important role for inclusive and accepting faith-based communities, especially at this moment in time where religion is often weaponized against 2SLGBTQ+ people. I am still recovering from the trauma of my own religious upbringing, but recently had the privilege of reconnecting with my Catholic high school and seeing how far it has come: staff now champions 2SLGBTQ+ students and the students themselves have a strong community and drive to fight for greater inclusion. While I no longer practice a religion, I deeply feel the power of faith-based voices speaking out against hate cloaked in religious garb.
There are so many pressing issues that MCC Toronto is well-positioned to tackle. The vilification of trans, non-binary and gender diverse people is one: somehow the acceptance of trans people or using the correct pronoun for someone has become a symbol of extreme “wokeness” and an easy joke.
Public-facing trans people face increasing violence online and in person. An inclusive, love-based community like MCC Toronto can be a counterbalance; a voice that celebrates diversity and advocates against this hate.
I also think 2SLGBTQ+ youth are another population MCC Toronto can continue to support. In the same way that the Triangle Program was founded to provide a safe place for queer youth, queer youth are again at particular risk and in need of community and connection as we emerge from the isolation of the pandemic. Mental health needs of everyone have risen, but queer young people are especially vulnerable.
And finally, there is our core human rights work with LGBTQ+ refugees. MCC Toronto has long been a haven for those fleeing violence and persecution based on their gender identity, expression or sexual orientation. As we have seen in the past year with the fall of Afghanistan and the invasion of Ukraine, LGBTQ+ people are at heightened risk in situations of conflict and there remains a real need to support and grow our refugee work.
I am excited for what we will accomplish together.