2 min

Heritage College is not homophobic, students say

Anglo-Quebec school celebrates Pride Week

Queer students at Gatineau's Heritage College will celebrate Pride Week March 18 to 23. Credit: Source: Facebook
When Lauren-Abra Cloot realized she was gay, her initial reaction was fear.
The Heritage College nursing student did not become aware of her sexual identity until she was already a student at the English-language general and vocational college in Gatineau.
Cloot typed the keywords “Heritage College” and “gay” into Google, and the results filled her with dread.
In 2009, Heritage College nursing student Ninoska Garcia-Ortiz alleged that instructor Tassy Kingsley had discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation.

“I didn’t know who to turn to,” Cloot says of her feelings after reading the Xtra article. “My first thought was, ‘Oh my god, nursing is predominantly female. Are they going to be homophobic?’”
Cloot questioned lesbian etiquette. She wondered if she would have to change in the men’s locker room if she came out. “Do I tell someone? Do I ask anybody? I was too afraid,” she recalls.
But Cloot did eventually confide in fellow students, who told her Heritage College was not a homophobic school. Teachers and Heritage’s administration were also supportive and welcoming.
“I was shocked at how supportive they have been. I talked to a couple of them about being gay and coming out, and they were surprised to hear I had any trepidation,” Cloot says.
As for Garcia-Ortiz, Lise Desjardins, Heritage’s communications and marketing manager, says the case went to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) in 2012. The CHRC found there was not enough evidence to proceed to court and the matter is closed, Desjardins says.
Additionally, Garcia-Ortiz later admitted she altered some of the emails she provided as evidence. 
From discovering she is gay to her pleasant surprise that her school is not homophobic, Cloot joined the Queer Students’ Association (QSA.) The organization, which reorganized and rebranded in September 2012, will celebrate Pride Week March 18 to 23.
Cloot says QSA’s Pride Week mission is to engage Heritage students and spark meaningful conversation.
“Sometimes because it’s a small school, people aren’t always as willing to say how they really feel,” Cloot says. “They are afraid it’s going to come back on them. Somebody will not say they are uncomfortable with homosexuality because they don’t want to come off as homophobic, when maybe they are not comfortable with it because they don’t understand our point of view.”
According to Cloot, Heritage’s Pride Week events aim to “address the awkward pauses.” The week features talks by notable members of the Ottawa region’s queer community and includes a screening of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Queer nursing student Heather Smith has never encountered homophobia at Heritage. Smith joined the QSA to have a support group where she could feel comfortable talking through issues with fellow queer students.
The 1 Girl, 5 Queers panel is the Pride event Smith is most looking forward to, and she hopes the week will raise awareness and educate straight Heritage students.
Bringing the student body together to foster mutual understanding is necessary, Smith says.
Deborah Valdez, director of student services, says Heritage fully supports the QSA and its Pride Week.
“Heritage College’s mission statement and our promise is respect for human diversity,” she says.
Past QSAs were not as proactive as the current organization, Valdez notes. She commends its members for “injecting a lot of vigour and dynamism into the whole college.”
Cloot wants any potential student to know Heritage offers “excellent education” and welcomes everybody.
She says students plan to make themselves heard and to say, “We’re here, we’re queer.”

For a full list of Heritage College’s Pride Week events, visit the QSA’s Facebook page.