This year marks the 35th anniversary of Gays And Lesbians Of Waterloo (GLOW), one of the longest-running queer student organizations in Canada. But its coordinators say the group is still dealing with many of the same issues as when it was founded in the early 1970s, including an administration that they say is resistant to queer-friendly initiatives.
“There is a lot of homophobia on campus,” says Alex Chunaco, one of GLOW’s coordinators. “The climate at the university is negative toward LGBTQQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning] students in general.”
Homophobic incidents against GLOW and queer individuals on campus are on the rise — GLOW reported four separate incidents to the local police in February alone. Homophobic graffiti, harassing phone calls and the theft of hundreds of posters are just some of the hurdles the group has had to deal with.
One of the more troubling incidents occurred in a meeting room in which GLOW conducts a weekly peer-support discussion group for students who are in the process of coming out.
“We came in,” says Sue Weare, a senior coordinator at GLOW, “and somebody had taken an electrical cord and tied it into a noose and attached a note to it that said, ‘If you can’t take it anymore, place neck here.'”
The incident wasn’t made public at the time.
“We didn’t publicize it because we did not want to compromise the safety of that room, and we were afraid that students would no longer show up to the discussion support group,” says Weare.
In response to the increase in homophobic incidents, GLOW decided to revive the idea of implementing a positive space program on campus — something that has been in the works for more than 10 years at the university.
“The university is very much against the idea of a positive space program,” says Weare. “They feel that it’s discriminatory because if some buildings start to advertise themselves as positive spaces, it implies that buildings without positive space stickers offer nonpositive spaces and therefore [queer] people would avoid those buildings.”
Somewhat baffled by the university’s response, GLOW suggested a slightly different approach: an ally network program that would engage interested staff and students in discussion and sensitivity training. Participants are given pins that identify then as queer allies. The GLOW coordinators say this suggestion was also met with resistance; administration suggested the program would be discriminatory against students who did not wish to participate.
“When we approached the university about it, they said that under no circumstances would they support this program and that they would discourage their staff from participating in it,” says Weare.
GLOW is now running the ally network program on its own with zero funding and no support from the university. While Weare and Chunaco say the project’s early stages have been successful, they are quick to admit that the university’s lack of support is hindering the program’s potential.
“It’s difficult when your own university doesn’t support you,” says Weare.
When contacted by Xtra, the University Of Waterloo’s head of media relations John Morris said the positive space isn’t necessary because the university is already accepting of queer students. He added that there is a diversity program, but couldn’t say exactly what it does.
They’ve had similar problems with the student administration. When GLOW tried to set up a meeting with the university’s Federation Of Students (FEDS) to voice their concerns about GLOW’s lack of visibility on campus, they were told that the meeting could only be scheduled on Sun, Jun 25, when all of GLOW’s members were scheduled to be marching in Toronto’s Pride Parade.
Chunaco says the relationship between GLOW and the FEDS at the University Of Waterloo has always been difficult. However, GLOW, which first began as an independent group in the early 1970s, isn’t planning to break away from FEDS anytime soon.
“It’s all about funding,” explains Weare. “Without it, we can’t operate, so our hands are pretty tied.
“Our services are not provided by anybody else on campus and with the increase in hate crimes that have been happening over the last year our services are even more in demand.”
Despite all the obstacles and the university’s lack of support, both coordinators remain positive about the future of GLOW.
“I would like to see everyone getting along,” says Chunaco. “Then there wouldn’t be a need for our group and our services to exist at all.”
Sounds nice. Maybe in the next 35 years?