February 28, 2023
Marni Panas, Alberta Health Services’ program manager for diversity and inclusion, has garnered a Distinguished Alumni Award from NAIT for her achievements as a globally recognized champion of the LGBTQ2S+ community and advocate for safe and inclusive spaces for all patients and staff. Photo supplied.
Story by Nouran Babcock
EDMONTON — The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) is recognizing Marni Panas, Alberta Health Services' (AHS) program manager for diversity and inclusion, with its Distinguished Alumni Award for her professional achievements as an advocate for safe and inclusive spaces for all patients and staff and globally recognized champion of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Panas contributed to the work that led Gender Expression and Gender Identity to be added as protected grounds under the Alberta Human Rights Act in 2015. She was a member of the committee that drafted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology to LGBTQ2S+ people in Canada for injustices experienced because of federal policies and practices. Panas also provided testimony to the Senate as Gender Identity and Gender Expression were added as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code of Canada.
“As a trans woman and somebody who is really looking at ways to exist in a society that would, in some cases, wish we didn’t exist at all, it’s taught me empathy and compassion,” says Panas. “This allows me to be a better parent, to be a better colleague, to be a better friend, to do my job as best as I possibly can — and to be empathetic to the needs of the people around me.”
Sixteen years ago, Panas suffered the loss of her infant son, Andrew who was born three months premature. He is survived by his twin brother, Alex. This heartbreak, however, proved a pivotal moment in shaping her life’s work.
"There was something about holding your child as he takes his last breath in your arms that teaches you something about living life without regret,” she says in a NAIT interview.
As well, she left her 20-year career in human resources, payroll and software development to work at the Stollery Children's Hospital where she could support the vulnerable and especially sick children.
Panas also underwent a gender transition, and today, as a world-renowned diversity leader, devotes her time to creating safe and inclusive spaces for all patients and staff, especially those who are part of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
“Working in a place where my role is really about removing as many barriers as possible so people can bring their whole selves, whatever that whole self is, to their work environment and for patients and families to be able to bring their whole self into their health care experience — it is a privilege to be able to do the work that I do,” she adds.
Since 1997, NAIT’s Distinguished Alumni Award has recognized graduates for their truly outstanding professional accomplishments. This lifetime achievement award recognizes individuals renowned for their leadership roles, industry expertise and merit. Nominees demonstrate significant service to NAIT and the community.
“It’s with great pride that I congratulate Marni, whose leadership and influence have reached across the breadth of our organization as we embrace diversity and inclusion,” says Mauro Chies, AHS interim CEO. “One of our priorities is building a healthcare system where all people feel safe and included and know they’ll always be treated with dignity and respect. Marni personifies the values we cherish.”
Under Panas’ leadership, AHS has twice brought home the prestigious Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Award from the Canadian College of Health Leaders (CCHL), in 2022 and 2019.
“I don’t believe anyone goes through their life thinking one day I will be an advocate with a goal to have the impact I’ve had,” adds Panas.
“However, there are many times where I found myself in a position where I had privilege and a voice where others might not have. When a parent asks for help for their child who simply wants to exist in a world that is safe for them to be who they are, saying no isn’t an option.”