Dr. Travis Salway and Andrew Beckerman have known each other since 2008, having attended the same conference on 2SLGBTQ+ health and well-being for many years. But it wasn’t until more than a decade later that they would have what Andrew describes as their “first real conversation.”
The two bonded quickly over a set of coincidental commonalities. Both were fellow Americans and UC Berkeley alumni living in British Columbia; Andrew relocated to Victoria from Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2005, while Travis moved to Vancouver in 2008. When Travis started as an assistant professor in SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences in 2019, Andrew was already supporting students at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, a faculty research centre led by adjunct professor Donald MacPherson at the time.
As a long-time human rights activist and advocate for the AIDS/HIV movement, it was Travis’ research in exposing the harmful practice of “conversion therapy”—which targets 2SLGBTQ+ youth and seeks to change their sexual orientation and gender identity—that ultimately struck a chord with Andrew and inspired him to direct his philanthropic efforts towards it.
At the time, Travis was tasked with testifying and presenting evidence to the Canadian government to inform federal policy to promote 2SLGBTQ+ health equity—and, in early 2022, the nationwide ban was passed, making it a crime to perpetuate anti-2SLGBTQ+ conversion practices.
“As soon as Travis shared the important work he was doing, I knew I wanted to contribute to that,” says Andrew. “It takes someone with Travis’ knowledge, expertise and passion to speak to the pain and suffering of conversion therapy, and I think he made a huge impact on the success of the legislation.”
For three years and counting, Andrew has given generously to support Travis and his team’s research activities, including the UnACoRN study to better understand the range of settings where youth have their sexual and gender identities affirmed or threatened. It also made it possible for Travis to take on undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in advancing public health research and equity.
“These donations help us conduct research that improves lives, but more importantly these students will go on to become health practitioners and carry with them some foundational knowledge to assertively include and affirm an 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive health approach,” says Travis.
“I am grateful to Andrew for both his generosity and appreciation for how these messy, deeply rooted social problems are deserving of attention,” he adds. “It truly takes a remarkable donor who understands that we need to dig deep into these social issues if we are going to resolve them in the long run.”
Andrew, who had no links to SFU before meeting Donald and Travis through the health advocacy space, says that having two colleagues with ties to SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences makes it a magnetic draw for his contributions. Moreover, he credits his own life-changing student experience as a catalyst for uplifting bright minds at SFU and other postsecondary institutions across the province.
“When I went to graduate school in 1969, tuition was very low and kept affordable by the state of California, and I was able to pursue an architectural career in community-based design and planning services rather than worry about student loans,” says Andrew. “Now I want to do the same for graduate students here in British Columbia—I want to give as much as I can, so that young people can go where their passion takes them, just as I have.”