Ryan Tran ’06 on his demanding but incredibly rewarding career in the non-profit, community-based sector.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
My name is Ryan Tran, Class of 2006. I’m a gay Vietnamese guy. I’ve been working for seven years in a non-profit community-based organization called Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS). ACAS provides sexual health education and HIV prevention services to the East and Southeast Asian community, including LGBTQ folks and people living with HIV in Toronto. I’m now the manager of education and outreach.
How did you get into community work? Were you always passionate about social causes and knew you wanted to be involved?
I never made plans to go into community work, but building an Asian LGBTQ community and advocating for their needs was a passion that became my livelihood. I actually went to college for graphic design first and didn’t start working at ACAS until 2013. However I started volunteering as part of their LGBTQ youth group while still attending UCC and it stuck with me. It was a community I really identified with and felt at home with, and I became personally invested in helping others find the same community.
Congratulations on your recent nomination for the LGBTQ Youth of the Year INSPIRE award! The INSPIRE Awards mission is to celebrate and encourage good work in the LGBTQ community and acknowledge inspiring people, youth, organizations and businesses for the wonderful work they do. What does this nomination mean for you?
Thank you! The nomination came as a complete surprise because they’re not allowed to tell me who nominated me. It’s also flattering that someone out there thinks I look young enough for the award because technically I’m not a youth anymore!
What's the most challenging aspect of your work?
Managing burnout and lack of funding. The work is as emotionally rewarding and fulfilling as it is mentally stressful. Most people go into this field motivated by their passion to help others, so it can be draining when you become so personally invested. It is unfortunately an under-funded field and the time and stress to find funding can take away from the actual community work.
What's the most rewarding aspect?
Being able to connect Asian LGBTQ people to a community where they can feel accepted and included. It’s hard to explain in words how it feels being accepted or included among others who have had similar experiences, but it’s rewarding seeing that among queer and trans Asian folks who find a place where they can fully be themselves and find their chosen family.
What's something that you hope to see change for the LGBTQ community in the future?
There are services for LGBTQ people and there are services for Asian people, but it is much harder to find services that meet both those identities. There are very few mental health services and resources where I can refer Asian LGBTQ people to, especially if they need a LGBTQ-friendly service provider who speaks their language as well.
Do you have any advice for UCC students interested in pursuing community-focused work?
Your unique experience and what makes you different is what makes you valuable. Go where your passion is and genuine desire to make the world better for others. That passion and motivation is going to be your major driving force to pursue and keep you going. Self-care is really important, so understanding your motivators and setting boundaries will help prevent burnout.
How do you feel your time at UCC prepared you for your career?
What was really great for me at UCC was having a supportive faculty and robust co-curricular programming. I’m grateful to Derek Poon for encouraging and supporting me to restart UCC’s gay-straight alliance at the time. And it was actually the community hours that I had to log for CAS that brought me to volunteering at ACAS.
What's something you wish you could tell your UCC self?
The hardest part of high school was not knowing what I wanted to do and not having a clear path, even years after graduating. I wish I didn’t give into the pressures of going into post-secondary directly after graduating. I wasn’t ready and I wish I had voiced my worries honestly. However, I was never one to follow a plan. I learned to adapt to whatever life brings. Embrace the unknown because plans change all the time.