GENS (Doug) HELLQUIST
October 12, 1946 - September 28, 2013
It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of Gens (Doug) Hellquist. Gens was born in North Battleford and raised in Saskatoon, where he was an active member of the community until his passing. Gens was the third of four sons born to Leif and Mildred Hellquist. Predeceased by his parents and his brother Lorne, Gens will be honoured and remembered by many that he has called family, including his brothers Terry and Wayne and their families, and countless members of the GLBT community across the country.
When we think about Gens, words like humanist, impassioned, activist, and gay pioneer all come to mind. A fierce warrior, tireless, and strong in his relentless advocacy for the GLBT community, his work spanned over four decades. His determination, passion and absolute belief in what true equality means have changed the landscape for all GLBT people in Saskatoon and nationwide. Through his years of dedication and hard work, his legacy will continue to shape both the queer community and the community as a whole for years to come.
Gens established the first queer organization in Saskatoon in 1971. Gens' activism continued over the years as he became the founding director of Gay and Lesbian Health Services of Saskatoon (now the Avenue Community Centre), serving in that capacity from 1991-2003. He then went on to play a lead role in the creation of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition, a national non-profit organization addressing the health disparities faced by Queer Canadians, eventually accepting the position of Executive Director. Gens was also the founder and editor of Canada's longest running GLBT publication, Perceptions, and wrote regularly for Xtra, Briarpatch, The Body Politic, Planet S and numerous other publications. He contributed his leadership, knowledge and energy to numerous boards including the Canadian AIDS Society, CATIE, Saskatchewan AIDS Network among many others.
Regardless of the issue or action, Gens was at the forefront ensuring equality and justice for all. Gens always looked at the greater picture, recognizing oppression and challenging the barriers people faced to living as full, active members of the community. Never one to back down from a fight, he was committed for the long haul. He refused to give up and his passion fueled a fire that was inextinguishable and inspired many others around him to take action, both personally and in the pursuit of equity and social justice for the queer community. He was a friend, an activist, an advocate, and a mentor.
In June 2005, Gens was awarded the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal in recognition of his years of involvement and advocacy in the queer community. In 2010 he was one of 12 individuals from across Canada inducted into the Q Hall of Fame. Gens also received the first Peter Corren Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2010, presented annually from the University of Saskatchewan to a person, persons or organization whose efforts have had a long-term impact on social justice for sexual minorities.
Gens also had a profound impact at a personal level for the many individuals he supported in their own journeys, creating a vital place at the Centre for people to become their true, authentic selves. With a diet Pepsi in hand, he always had time to talk. He valued the insights and learning he gained from others' personal experience, using that as a basis to affect community change.
In the words of Gens' favourite musician (Freddy Mercury), "It's a long hard fight, but I'll always live for tomorrow, I'll look back on myself and say I did it for love, Yes I did it for love - for love - oh I did it for love." Everything that Gens did was for the love of his "tribe" as he always called those in his community. That love will be carried forward by those who follow in the very big shoes he has left behind.
The family has requested that in lieu of flower donations, donations be made to the Avenue Community Centre to create a fund in his name: avenuecommunitycentre.ca/ donate/.
If you are unable to donate funds, please consider donating your time. Gens would have loved to know that he has inspired a new volunteer into action.
A community celebration of Gens' life will take place this Thursday, October 10th, at 2:00 p.m. at the Roxy Theatre. Everyone is invited to attend and help celebrate Gens' life and contributions. Dress casually.
Published in The Saskatoon StarPhoenix on Oct. 7, 2013