Board of Directors

Gemma Hickey (Founder and Chair)

Gemma Hickey is a passionate humanist whose activism has changed the legal landscape of Canada. A tireless advocate, appearing in major publications throughout North America and in news media outlets around the world, Gemma is the recipient of various scholarships and awards.

Gemma became a well-known force for change when they co-lead the movement that legalized same-sex marriage in Canada in 2005. In 2017, their request for a gender-neutral birth certificate spurred Newfoundland and Labrador to change its law, and Gemma became the first person in Canada to receive a non-binary birth certificate.

In 2013 Gemma created the Pathways Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports survivors of clergy abuse. To promote awareness and raise funds for the cause, they walked 938-kilometres across Newfoundland in July 2015.

Gemma has also served on numerous boards and committees, both nationally and at home in Newfoundland and Labrador. They played an instrumental role in creating supportive housing facilities for those in need, and have fostered the arts by volunteering on the boards of various arts organizations. Gemma’s day job combines that passion for the arts with a desire to help young people reach their potential. Since 2010, they have been Executive Director of For the Love of Learning, a non-profit that works to forge new paths for at-risk youth by advancing their literacy and creative skills.

Gemma’s personal journey through gender transformation is the subject of Just Be Gemma, a documentary produced by Nine Island Communications. The film is presently being screed at film festivals, but has aired on CBC Television and The Documentary Channel in fall 2017.

Gemma is currently a Masters Candidate in Gender Studies at Memorial University, and is completing a novel for Breakwater Books inspired by life on the road, justice, and their beloved Nan. The book entitled, Almost Feral is due next year.

Patricia Dold (Vice-Chair)

Born in Calgary, Patricia was raised and educated in Alberta, but completed her doctorate at McMaster University in Hamilton. She moved to Newfoundland in 2004. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and the Head of the Department of Gender Studies at Memorial University. Her research and teaching focuses on Hindu religious traditions and women in religion.

Brittany Whalen

Brittany was called to the Ontario bar in 2016, and transferred to the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2017. Brittany received her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Ottawa, and earned the Option in International Law. She completed her undergraduate degree at Queen’s University, and obtained both a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and a Certificate in Sexual and Gender Diversity. Brittany is passionate about social justice and has worked with various equity-seeking groups and non-profit organizations. Most recently, she has volunteered her time to support Cambodian Legal Education for Women (CLEW), a charity that helps young women in Cambodia to obtain a university law degree. In her spare time, Brittany also enjoys traveling and exploring her creative side.

John Brooks

John is a former Federal Crown attorney (2002 -2012)  and before that a Provincial Crown attorney (NL) (1982-2002) . As a Provincial Crown attorney he worked  in the  Labrador, Cornerbrook and St Johns offices.  At present John lives in St John’s where he is now a sole practitioner practising   primarily criminal and civil law. He also is a part time faculty in the moot court program at UNB Law School in Fredericton NB.

Jack Penashue 

A strong advocate for First Nations people, Jack obtained his Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, but has spent the majority of his time working in Labrador. As the Labrador Health Secretariat, he acted as a liaison for the Federal Government and Innu First Nations, while also providing cultural awareness, resources, treatment assessments and support. Currently, he is the Social Health Director for the Innu First Nations in Sheshatshiu and conducts evaluations of both provincial and federal social programs to ensure quality service delivery.

Past Board Members

Nena Sandoval

Nena has practiced as a therapist for over thirty years in the area of sexuality through assessment, treatment, education, consultation, and policy development. She worked with Eastern Health from 1980 and retired in 2010 first working as a psychological assistant then helping develop The Clinical Sexology Program in 1997 as the first Clinical Sexologist in the province. Clinical experience includes the assessment and treatment of sexual dysfunctions, paraphilias, gender dysphoria and couple issues. She has worked in the areas of: acute psychiatry, forensics, out-patient mental health, psychiatric rehabilitation and developmental disabilities and is considered an expert witness in the area of sexuality in Newfoundland and Labrador. She has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from MUN (1979) and a Master’s Degree in Human Sexuality from The Institute for Advanced Study in Human Sexuality (IASHS) in San Francisco (1996) and is a member of both national and international Sexological Organizations.

Dorothy Vaandering

Originally from Ontario, Dorothy moved to Newfoundland in 2009. She taught elementary students at faith based schools in Calgary and Ontario for twenty years and pursued her doctorate at the University of Western Ontario where she explored the potential of restorative justice and peacemaking for education. She is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University and continues to focus her research on how restorative justice contributes to a deeper understanding of promoting healing within relationships in the context of institutions. 

Deborah Thomas

After studying journalism at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary, Deborah returned home to Newfoundland to work for a variety of local newspapers and spent five years at CBC locations in St. John’s, Corner Brook and Calgary. In 2004, she accepted a media relations position with Eastern Health, where she remained for three years, until she was offered a Director of Communications position with the Government of NL. She has worked in four government departments over the span of eight years, and is currently the Director of Communications for the Department of Environment and Conservation.

Raelene Lee

Raelene is a lawyer with McInnes Cooper where she regularly provides employment, labour relations and other general advice to corporate clients. Her practice also includes Workplace Health and Safety and Occupational Health and Safety matters, privacy and human rights matters, real property, and corporate and commercial transactions. She is an active volunteer on a number of community boards. She is a regular instructor in the Faculty of Business Administration at Memorial University and in 2010 received the St. John’s Northwest Rotary Aidan Maloney Emerging Professionals Award.

Barbara Flint

Prior to retiring from Health Canada, Barbara devoted her time and energy to the Women’s Health Bureau where she developed policies and training on assisted human reproduction and sexual health. Raising funds for Ottawa’s Homelessness Initiative, Barbara developed strategies on how to better serve marginalized populations. Her work with United Way in both Halifax and Ottawa shaped the capacity of a wide variety of non-profit organizations. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Gender Studies at Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Jose Rivera

Born in Columbia, Jose has made Newfoundland his new home by becoming a community leader. As Director of the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council (RIAC), he streamlined the development of the organization and assisted numerous refugees and immigrants overcome barriers and meet their educational and employment goals through social enterprise. He has served on a variety of local committees and boards and has experience in a wide range of fields from accounting and marketing to software development and design.