2 min

Growing up in a tiny town…

HAVING FUN. Wayne van der Meide took in Trinidad's underground parties. Credit: Image by Xtra files

Rick Telfer is a hardcore homo academic.

“Universities are supposed to be generators of knowledge for society,” says Telfer. “They are a place where a new kind of gay and lesbian culture can grow and thrive.”

Telfer should know. He’s finishing his Master’s in sociology at the University Of Western Ontario. Located in London, it has some of Canada’s top homo resources, with an established Faculty For Gay And Lesbian Studies, a Pride Library and even a homo alumni chapter.

And it’s at Western that Telfer found his own courage to come out. Born and raised in the small town of Simcoe, Telfer says he was so sheltered he didn’t know being openly gay was even an option.

“Coming out wasn’t something I even knew about,” he says.

It wasn’t until he began his undergrad at Western six years ago that Telfer discovered there were those who lived their lives openly gay, and that he could do it, too.

“I realized I could control my own destiny.” During his second year at Western, Telfer came out to a close female friend. She, in turn, tipped him off to the city’s gay bars. At age 20, a nervous Telfer opened the door of the now-defunct Lacy’s.

After that, there was no turning back – 24-year-old Telfer says with a laugh that he’ll always have a fondness for the bars. He came out to his parents (“It went from, ‘We will never accept it’ to ‘We don’t accept it but we accept you’ to ‘We accept you'”). And he’s now in his most serious relationship – two years and counting with his police officer boyfriend.

Telfer fell into student politics when his partner suggested he run for a spot on the university senate to spruce up his resume. Telfer gave it a go.

One of his goals was to help get funding for the Faculty For Gay And Lesbian Studies, a fledgling department that just got off the ground in 1997. Telfer says by the time any requests would reach the Senate, they had already been shot down by higher levels of administration.

“Being a gay graduate senator didn’t help anything,” Telfer says. “So I decided to try and make a difference just for students.”

Right now, Telfer is a member of Western’s Society Of Graduate Students. When a colleague couldn’t go, he ended up at the general meeting of the Canadian Federation Of Students last November.

“I was thrilled,” he says. “I thought this was incredible.”

Representing hundreds of thousands, the CFS has, among other things, adamantly protested the Canadian Blood Services’s practice of refusing the blood of gay men.

In short, says Telfer, “it’s not just a student movement, but a social movement. There’s nothing I’d rather be a part of.”

After graduating this June, Telfer will start on his PhD. Hoping to attend either York or McMaster, he’s going to do his thesis on gender and sexual identities in social movements. He also plans to do more work with the CFS.

“Traditionally, there are so many areas that have nothing to say about glbt issues, that have refused to say anything,” he says. “Gay and lesbian [studies] allows for new knowledge, a new point of view.

“You can politicize people if you have a space for them.”