'Life is waiting for you': Pride co-chair Danny Papadatos wants to make city even more inclusive
Past CBC Future 40 winner looks forward to bringing international Pride event to Saskatoon
Danny Papadatos wants his work to help Saskatoon become a better city.
That mission is a take on advice Papadatos was given from a lady who was sitting next to him as he underwent his last round of chemotherapy, after being diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma when he was 21.
Papadatos said he had used having cancer as an excuse, and told the woman he didn't know what to do with his life.
"She said, 'Danny, life is waiting for you but you need to get up every day and make a choice as to how you want to leave the world that you came into. And you have to be that person every day,'" Papadatos recalled.
He now has those words tattooed on his chest — "Life is waiting."
His work to make Saskatoon a better and more inclusive city for people in the LGBTQ community has been part of what Papadatos took away from that conversation. He said he hopes it can become the type of community where kids can grow up as whoever they want to be, without the anxiety due to their orientation he had growing up.
"Because it's not fair. It's not fair that somebody should have to live or grow up in that kind of state."
Papadatos grew up on an acreage just south of Saskatoon. His family had moved into the city by the time he was in Grade 8.
It was when he was around 15 or 16 years old that Papadatos said he started to question who he was.
"Me questioning who I was and trying to figure it all out at a young age, it was really hard. I found myself lying. I found myself using different pronouns to cover up where I had been."
Papadatos said it was difficult to feel OK in his own skin. He said he would put on an act to make himself seem "less gay" so his family wouldn't catch on.
It also meant that Papadatos started spending less and less time at home, and more and more time in the fine arts program at Evan Hardy Collegiate.
"I became so used to being a character at home. I was so used to putting on an image," Papadatos said, explaining that being involved in plays and musicals gave him a release, as opposed to being somewhere to hide.
It wasn't until after high school, when Papadatos was 19 and still living at home, that he came out to his family.
It was on a night when he'd had his heart broken, Papadatos said. He was sitting with his mom at the table when he burst into tears.
"I remember running out to my car and my mom followed behind me and locked herself in my car, and wouldn't get out until I told her what was wrong."
Looking back at that moment now, Papadatos said it was necessary. It allowed him to unload baggage he had been carrying, and allowed his mother to realize that he will always be her son — no matter how he identifies himself.
Papadatos would have to move out of his family's home after coming out, but speaking about his family today, he says he is thankful and proud.
"I love my family very much. I know they never not loved me."
Having cancer, Papadatos said, actually saved his life.
Before his diagnosis, Papadatos said he wasn't living his best life and was making bad choices; cancer, he said, made him smarten up.
By 2013, Papadatos had been named Mr. Gay Canada, and even competed for the title of Mr. Gay World in Belgium.
Then in 2014, Papadatos got a call from Brice Field, then the chair of Saskatoon Pride, who was ready to pass on the torch.
Papadatos got a team together and began working on what Saskatoon Pride seemed to need most then — money. Through a variety of fundraisers — including Papadatos asking people for donations in exchange for information about the Pride festival — the team raised money, and even recruited a few sponsors.
In Papadatos's first year, the festival saw roughly 3,500 people throughout the week. Now, four years later, the most recent festival had an attendance of 20,000, and even raised $10,000 for local queer organizations.
"I'm very proud of the work that I've put into this city," Papadatos said, adding that people need to continue the work together in order to create a truly inclusive community.
While Papadatos said his time as co-chair of Saskatoon Pride may be nearing its end, he looks forward to bringing the InterPride conference to the city in 2018.
The international conference will not only be a great opportunity for Saskatoon to step up, Papadatos said, but for locals to meet and learn from Pride movement leaders from around the world.
'More fuel to the fire'
Volunteer positions like his can often be thankless jobs, Papadatos said. But being recognized with a CBC Future 40 award in 2016 acknowledged not only his work with Saskatoon Pride, but the work of the entire festival.
"It gives a little bit more fuel to the fire, I guess."
Now a new round of CBC Future 40 is underway, looking to recognize 40 more people under the age of 40 for the work they're doing in the province. Papadatos said a lot of people in Saskatchewan are doing great things because, like him, they want the province to be a better place.
"It's really important to show those people how much you care and appreciate them because without them, we wouldn't be moving forward."