“Coming out in Arnprior was odd,” sums up James Bromilow with a bewildered look.
He grew up there and felt that there wasn’t really anyone to come out to. He felt isolated, like he was the only one.
So when he came out at age 18, he told his mom first and then a few friends.
It’s a common story. Most queer teenagers in small towns don’t have a queer community to take part in. Only when they move to the city do they discover they’re not alone, that there’s a community and a culture awaiting them.
And that experience is Bromilow’s foremost reason for his latest volunteering work: this Carleton student is the new interim chair of the steering committee working for a queer community centre in Ottawa. He’s replacing chair Nathan Taylor, also in his 20s, who is moving to the Ukraine (with his husband, Sam McEwen, also a committee member) for a job posting.
Bromilow will lead the committee through to its founding annual general meeting this September. That’s when they’ll decide on the bylaws governing the centre, seek high profile board members and corporate sponsors and begin the drive to acquire a physical space. Bromilow hopes to stay involved.
It fits him. He has always been community-minded, participating in Beavers at age six and then Scouts, and volunteering for fundraisers and planting trees where his help was needed. He seems nervous and shy upfront, but loosens up and has a warm and intriguing demeanor. He looks like someone you’d want to talk to and can often be spotted wandering around the city with a book in hand.
At 24, Bromilow is the youngest and possibly quietest member of the steering committee. He has been branded ‘the young guy’ but doesn’t seem to mind.
“Because I’m a student,” he says, “I bring a more academic perspective. I do more research and try to find things that have worked for other communities.”
He has been in and out of Ottawa U taking the Canadian Studies program. It was born out of the idea that Canada has no singular identity, no common expression of nationalism. He sees a similar challenge in helping build a community centre for the local gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, two-spirited and queer community is a similar challenge. The centre will be an emblem for the community, and Bromilow hopes it will be a home for organizations that don’t have one.
He got involved in November of last year. It started with small tasks at PTS and grew into a bigger commitment.
He has a very nurturing personality. He cares as much for this project as he does for his many houseplants and his four-year-old cat, Silhouette.
The project has been well received in the community because there is a definite need for a gay centre.
“We on the committee are all on the same wavelength,” says Bromilow. “The idea is that it doesn’t belong to us, but to the community.” His altruism is palpable. He, like many others, wants the new centre to be a touchstone, a front door to the queer community. “I want it to be not just welcoming, but actively inclusive.”
This project, delayed repeatedly over the past decade and then some, hasn’t been a complete walk in the park. Personally, Bromilow has had to overcome his fear of groups and public speaking in order to communicate his ideas and be involved.
The challenges are many. First, it’s location, location, location. Bromilow says that Ottawa has a large queer population, as well as lots of transient queers because it’s a government town. So it’s not like building a community centre in a specific area like Sandy Hill or Hintonburg, because queer people are all over the city.
There is also no precedent for a project like this. Unlike Toronto, Ottawa doesn’t have an official village. “The 519 was built in an already thriving village, but we don’t have that yet so it’s very hard to plan without any guidelines,” says Bromilow. “Ottawa is conservative, not in the left-right sense but in its traditions and personality.”
The committee is conducting a survey conducted during Pride, and anyone who completes it will have a shot at naming the new community centre.
Also, there will be a new community centre website. Bromilow hopes it will be up and running by August. The committee wants to be completely transparent to the community so all their minutes will be available, as well as finances, goals and progress. It’ll be easier to navigate than the old one that is available through the PTS site.
These days, since he is a student and works as a temp, his schedule is off and on, so Bromilow has the time to volunteer and finds it very fulfilling.
“I think of the community like a garden,” muses Bromilow. “If you want to enjoy the garden you have to plant the seeds and take care of them.” He knows his effort will one day reward him with a beautiful backyard.