New Brunswick

LGBT advocate, Cooke Aquaculture CEO to be honoured for social activism

Two men being honoured for their humanitarian efforts by the Canadian Red Cross both hail from Charlotte County.

Elijah Matheson, Glenn Cooke are New Brunswick's 2017 recipients of the Red Cross Power of Humanity Awards

Elijah Matheson, right, is a founding member of St. Thomas University's Queer and Allied People Society. (Courtesy Canadian Red Cross Atlantic Zone)

LGBT promotion and awareness, disaster aid, and global charities are among the causes championed by two men being honoured for their humanitarian work by the Canadian Red Cross.

Elijah Matheson, a Saint Andrews native and student at St. Thomas University, and Glenn Cooke, CEO of Cooke Aquaculture, are this year's recipients of the Red Cross Power of Humanity Awards in New Brunswick.

Matheson began speaking out about LGBT issues at age 16, when he got involved in the Gay Straight Alliance at Sir James Dunn Academy in Saint Andrews.

He rose to the ranks of president, helped form a provincewide network of Gay Straight Alliance groups, and in 2013 led a New Brunswick delegation to the first national GSA summit in Toronto.

Matheson said he wanted better representation for LGBT youth attending New Brunswick's schools.

In 2013, Matheson led a New Brunswick delegation to the first national Gay Straight Alliance summit in Toronto. (Courtesy Canadian Red Cross Atlantic Zone)

​"Just encouraging people to explore things they don't understand, just to remember that no matter what your beliefs are or your background, when you're dealing with any community, you're dealing with people who are trying to live their lives," Matheson told Information Morning Saint John.

"It's about equity and bringing people who are disenfranchised, and bringing them from a lower level up to an equal level with other people. It's not about shoving things in people's faces, or trying to have more rights than others, it's trying to be recognized and achieving that equality."

'Standing on shoulders' of activists

When Matheson got to STU, he found a large, supportive LGBT community without any official framework in place. So he helped put one together.

Matheson co-chairs the Queer and Allied People's Society, which hosts regular support meetings, awareness and friendship events, and offers an annual award to a student who makes a meaningful impact on the university's LGBT community.

He said he's humbled that his efforts received wider recognition by the Red Cross.

"I think it's wonderful and I'm truly honoured to be recognized … I'm standing on the shoulders of activists who came before me, and activists around me all the time supporting me," said Matheson.

"I'm thankful such a big humanitarian platform has picked an advocate for LGBTQ rights to champion this year. It will be great to show people there is still work to do, even though we're in Canada and have come a long way … you can always improve and increase visibility."

Clenn Cooke, CEO of Cooke Aquaculture, supports global projects such as Stella’s Voice, which provides care and vocational support to older orphans in Moldova. (Courtesy Canadian Red Cross Atlantic Zone)

The Red Cross is also celebrating Glenn Cooke for his dedication to disaster assistance and charitable causes, both locally and around the world.

The Cooke Aquaculture CEO was among the first to respond to severe flooding in southwest New Brunswick in December 2010.

He guided staff to help with evacuations and deliver food and other emergency relief.

And he helped build a new subdivision for dozens of people whose homes were destroyed.

"When we heard people were in trouble, without question we looked after people," said the Blacks Harbour-born Cooke. "I'm being honoured here, but it's the employees, the people of Cooke who jumped to the table and took charge.

"I was proud of how our team stepped up to that crisis. I'm proud I could be part of the assistance to make Charlotte County better."

'Kind of heart-changing'

Cooke and his family also support global projects such as Stella's Voice, which provides care and job support to older orphans in Moldova, northeast of Romania.

"A lot of the girls are picked up quickly from international organizations and put into sex trades, and so in our mind it's rescuing those girls to make sure they have a life … and they're safe," he said.

"It's kind of heart-changing, these are kids that lost everything in life as kids … they come through an orphanage system that's really Third World.

"And to help those kids recover and put them through schooling, situate them to have a normal life is an incredible experience."

The New Brunswick Power of Humanity Awards will be held Wednesday night at the Saint John Trade & Convention Centre in Saint John.

With files from Information Morning Saint John