“It’s a great place for people of all types to gather and that makes me feel safe”

Alex Saunders has always felt safe, engaged, and welcome at the YMCA of Greater Saint John.

Alex, who uses the gender-neutral pronouns of they/them, says the Y’s focus on diversity and inclusion was evident from an early age.

“The Y has been a large part of my life for many years,” they said. “As far back as the Y Uptown, where I’d attend ‘Cooking in the Kitchen with Kids’ and whatever computer classes you had going on. My father is, and I was, a Y’s Service Club Member. I was the first female member in Saint John.”

Alex has been providing drag king entertainment for the past 11 years and been producing shows since 2016 through the alter ego of Justin Toodeep (he/him). Alex said events like his have been well-received but there remains a lack of representation and services available in Saint John for LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit, Other).

However, Alex said it is a step in the right direction when organizations such as the Y take specific action to make spaces inclusive, such as the Y’s recent renaming of a Universal Changing Room and adding inclusive signage to gendered changing rooms that all members who identify or express as the gender on the door sign are welcome.

“It’s a great place for people of all types to gather and that makes me feel safe,” said Alex. “The Y is very diverse. I am always looking for that queer-specific inclusion and hearing of the changes (the Y) has been making, in regards to gender-neutral signage and such, is a great step towards being LGBTQ2S+ inclusive.”

Alex has many fond memories of the Y growing up and said the skills learned years ago have come in handy.

“I became an IT professional who can cook years later, so it’s all worked out for the best,” they said.

Alex added that there are a few other key features at the Y that has been very enjoyable over the years.

“I have always loved the pool. Swimming is a great way to stay active and it’s the most fun. Honestly, if you’re 30 and want a good time, go do water aerobics! It is way too fun to miss out on.”

Along with the welcoming vibe at the Y, that feeling of the community also led Alex to want to give back.

“I spent a great deal of time at the YMCA and always helped my dad volunteer. It instilled in me the need/desire to give back to my community. Years later, I became a member of the Y’s Service Club and I help them with as many events as I can.”

The YMCA continues to strive for opportunities to represent diverse perspectives and Alex hopes to be able to help with this through future volunteering.

“Being able to give back to my community is really important for me,” said Alex. “Even with my drag character, I am always looking for ways that I can give to our future queer generations, be that through providing them with examples of queer people thriving/being visible in our community, or informing people who might be afraid/unable to ask questions about the queer community to gain that knowledge. To know that through my volunteering I could potentially influence a young person to be their true self is the most rewarding part.”

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As a Y volunteer, you might lead an exercise class, welcome new immigrants, mentor young people, produce a special event or advise on local issues. No matter how you help, you’ll make a big difference as you work with others where you live, work and play.