Former dance program director alleges discrimination against the LGBTQ community at Youth For Christ Winnipeg

The former director of a government-subsidized dance program in Winnipeg run by an evangelical Christian charity says her boss told her she couldn’t hire an employee because she’s LGBTQ.

Kim Hildebrand began working at Masterworks, a dance program run by Youth for Christ Winnipeg in its building at Main Street and Higgins Avenue, 15 years ago and worked her way up to the position of director.

In 2020, a student on the show who had just graduated from high school talked to her friends on the show about her sexuality and applied to work on Hildebrand’s team, she said.

“I was ready to hire her … and they wouldn’t let me,” Hildebrand told CBC News.

The person was a Christian and well qualified for the job, Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand says Youth For Christ Winnipeg has hiring policies that discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community, a sentiment shared by former employees and volunteers at Edge Skatepark, another program run by Youth For Christ Winnipeg.

Earlier this month, a coalition of skaters came together to raise funds for an inclusive indoor skate park, claiming that the facility in the Youth For Christ center building, which receives funding from all levels of government, is not a safe place for LGBTQ people.

Former dance program director alleges discrimination against the LGBTQ community at Youth For Christ Winnipeg yfc winnipeg building
The Masterworks studio is in the Youth For Christ Winnipeg building at Main Street and Higgins Avenue. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A person working at Youth For Christ Winnipeg gave CBC Manitoba a document employees must sign that includes the directive to uphold “the purity and sanctity of sexual relations within marriage” and says the charity believes Marriage must be between one man and one. woman.

The same wording can be found in earlier versions of employee handbooks from other regions of Canada.

Youth For Christ Winnipeg’s volunteer policy, which was given to CBC News by a former volunteer, has an identical clause but gives volunteers the option of agreeing not to oppose the mission and values โ€‹โ€‹of the organization and not to speak out against it. of the agency or its securities, instead of signing the agreement.

In a written statement to CBC News on Wednesday night, Youth For Christ Winnipeg executive director Cliff Heide says the organization believes the staff are “ministers of the gospel and as members of a religious order, we have a set agreed set of beliefs and behaviors to follow,” which includes beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

“Our beliefs have not changed in our rapidly changing culture, but we have been learning and growing in our ability to walk with young people through these challenging cultural issues.”

In a statement to the media last week, Youth for Christ Winnipeg said “all young people are welcome and valued” at the organization, “regardless of religious beliefs, people group or sexual orientation.”

government funding

Youth For Christ Winnipeg has received more than $357,000 in funding through Canada’s Summer Jobs program since 2017.

Leah Gazan, Member of Parliament for Downtown Winnipeg, where the office of the evangelical Christian charity is located, called for a review of federal funds used to support Youth for Christ Winnipeg. in an open letter Tuesday.

“It is unacceptable for an organization that has received significant public funding to employ practices that discriminate against the 2SLGBTQ community,” he wrote.

“Given what is now in the public record about YFC’s hiring and volunteering policies, I am concerned that federal money has been used to undermine the exercise of those fundamental rights.”

In 2019, the federal government changed its application process to require applicants for funding to declare that their work does not infringe the legal rights of any Canadian.

Mila Roy, a spokeswoman for Employment and Social Development Canada, which oversees the summer jobs program, said the department is aware of the complaints against Youth For Christ Winnipeg but declined to comment on its continued funding.

The department reserves the right to withhold future funds, he said.

“Young people deserve to work in safe, inclusive and healthy work environments,” Roy said in an email on Wednesday.

“Our government is committed to ensuring that all Canada Summer Jobs locations are free from harassment and discrimination.”

Hildebrand questions the charity’s claims that they welcome and value all young people.

‘You’re hurting them’

“It’s just not right that we can say we’re accepting these kids, because you’re hurting them because you say you’re accepted here, but I can’t hire anyone like my leaders and staff who look like you or who act like you,” he said.

In 2021 he left his job due to the organization’s hiring policies.

“I just said I can’t, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do it. It’s not right in my heart.”

Hildebrand said she loved her job and felt she was really making a difference in the program, which helps low-income families by offering free dance and dress classes, as well as transportation to and from class.

Former dance program director alleges discrimination against the LGBTQ community at Youth For Christ Winnipeg yfc building
Youth For Christ Winnipeg calls the Masterworks dance program one of the largest and most impactful ministry programs it oversees. The dance studio has been closed since August. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Hilary James worked as a part-time dance teacher for five years before quitting this summer.

She said more than half of the Masterworks staff, including herself, disagreed with the requirement to sign a statement of faith, but they didn’t speak openly about it because they didn’t want to change course.

“They were worried that they wouldn’t be able to survive without being a part of YFC because … they have this massive facility that we were able to use and they have massive funding,” James said.

About four months ago, the program, which at one point was considered Youth for Christ’s largest and most impactful ministry, went on hiatus. a statement on the website He says.

“The five YFC employees who were providing leadership to Masterworks felt a calling to something beyond the scope of YFC, and have left their employment with YFC Winnipeg,” the statement said.

Youth For Christ Winnipeg said on its website that the Masterworks program will remain on hiatus while it reassesses staffing and programming there.

Several former Masterworks staff members created a new dance program after the center’s studio closed.

Hildebrand and James still feel the loss of the original show.

“I would love to see that space made safe again. That facility is amazing. All of our dance floors, all of our dance studios, our house is empty. It’s empty. It’s dark. No one is using it.” Hildebrando said.

James said there is a solution.

“It’s really sad to see it come crashing down to the detriment of young people, and there’s a very easy way to solve that, and they just flat out refuse to make any kind of change, at least any kind of meaningful change.”

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