Charitable Choices: Monica Henao, Content Manager and Lead Producer at Get REAL

We had the chance to talk with Monica Henao, Content Manager and Lead Producer at Get REAL, about how they fight discrimination, racism and bullying in schools and workplaces.

Get REAL

Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences.

The Get REAL Movement is a non-profit organization focused on combatting 2SLGBTQ+ discrimination, racism and bullying in schools, summer camps and workplaces.

We accomplish this through two core areas of focus: education – offering Inclusivity, Anti-Racism, and Trans 101 Workshops for students, teachers, parents, and workplaces, providing consulting services, and producing online and in-person resources including curriculum pieces, posters, videos, and merchandise – leadership development and youth support, through our University Chapter, High School After-School, and 2SLGBTQ+ Virtual Counselling Programs.

What problem does it aim to solve?

Overall, our organization programming aims to break down prejudice, promote unity and foster compassion in our world through peer-to-peer workshops on 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion and anti-racism, community building and collaboration.

Some of our work seeks to create safe spaces for youth to be themselves, build self-confidence, and learn new skills in a supportive environment, such as our After-School Program and University Chapter Program. Other parts strive to open minds and equip folks to better support marginalized youth through education, story-sharing, and access to resources. “Unconditional Love” falls into this second category.

Study after study consistently shows that family and caregiver support is critical for the wellbeing of 2SLGBTQ+ youth; however, resources for how to go about that support, and stories of real families, can be hard to find. With “Unconditional Love”, we set out to create a resource to address this.

When did you start/join it?

Get REAL began as a student project at Western University in 2011. As Orientation Week volunteer leaders, we saw excellent results combatting homophobic, transphobic, and racist language and attitudes one-to-one with our first-year students – countless students changing their language within a matter of days, and countless others coming out to us and telling us they felt comfortable being themselves. This gave us the idea to translate this friendly, honest, diverse, and personal-story driven approach into a workshop for some of our old high schools… And the concept behind Get REAL was born!

What made you want to get involved?

I wanted to join Get REAL to be the representation I didn’t have when I was growing up. I didn’t see lesbians who looked like me on TV or in movies and that led me to think I was the only one or that I was an anomaly! Not only that, but I felt like I wasn’t able to embrace all the different parts of myself – being gay, a person of faith, Colombian and also Canadian – when I was younger, but now I see that I can celebrate all of me without having to choose one or the other, and I wanted to spread that message to students that they can be every single part of themselves because that’s what makes them unique. However, they are, they are enough.

What was the situation like when you started?

I started working for Get REAL in 2020 after I was laid off from being a flight attendant due to the pandemic. A blessing in disguise, for sure. I got the opportunity to become a speaker, and I was thrilled. During the pandemic, we did our workshops virtually and it was awesome because I was able to connect with a bunch of people from my bedroom! We learned to adapt to virtual workshops, an increased demand and navigating how to keep our workshops as safe as possible for speakers and students. Our team of speakers has definitely increased, and it’s wonderful to be able to connect with such like-minded people and also learn from their experiences and journeys.

How has it changed since?

Get REAL has grown! We started with a handful of speakers and now have over 20 people in the organization. COVID-19 meant we had to shift to virtual training, but it also made it possible for our speakers to live across the country and for us to reach schools and corporations in multiple provinces in one day. Growing our team means we can offer more workshops, like our 2SLGBTQ+ and Black history presentations, and re-start our Ontario After School Program.

What more needs to be done?

We sometimes say our work will be done when Get REAL is no longer needed. When every school, corporation and summer camp is putting equity at the front of their minds… that’s when we can retire! As it is, we encourage people to be allies by stopping others from asking harmful questions, introducing their pronouns, checking their privilege and continuing to learn how they can do better.

How can our readers help?

Spread the word! Beyond our workshops and programming, we have a lot of amazing resources available like our BindSafe videos and Unconditional Love, an information source for families working through a loved one coming out. The more people we can reach, the bigger difference we can make with this education. Readers are also encouraged to support our programming by buying a piece of merchandise or becoming monthly donors.

Support such as this is crucial as we are continuously working to meet the growing demand for our work!

Do you have any events coming up?

Our workshops run every day and our free Monthly After School Programming runs from October – June for Ontario and Manitoba students in grades 8-12. Our University Chapter Conference is happening in November, and in addition to Unconditional Love, we are in the midst of releasing three more educational video projects: Small Acts Every Day (focused on acts of ally ship), our Speaker Spotlight series, highlighting some of our Speakers; and “The Clinic”, a short PSA film highlighting the need for more inclusive healthcare across Canada.

We’re also launching a new cohort of our Virtual Counselling Program, open to 2SLGBTQ+ youth across Ontario!

Where can we follow you?

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PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

Black Lives Matter, Canada
Canadian Lesbian and Gay ArQuives
Indspire
Rainbow Railroad
LGBT Youthline
Jack.org
Kids Help Phone