I came out in 1991. My first baby-step was to call the Gayline, and the volunteer told me all about this funky youth group for people like me. The second small – but hugely frightening – step for me was to actually attend a meeting of this youth group. (Give yourself one old-timer point if you remember the group being called LGYOH.)
It wasn’t until much later that I learned this group and others were run by an agency known as Pink Triangle Services, or just PTS to anyone in the know. I also didn’t know that PTS shared space with ALGO (another old-timer point if you remember that acronym). What I did know is that I had to venture downtown, to a surprisingly dark corner off Bank Street, to a mysterious space above a run-down laundromat. An unassuming glass door opened to an uninviting staircase, the metal door at the top downright intimidating. Fortunately, the people I met that night proved far friendlier than the building, and soon enough I had found the gay community, a new home, and myself (another old-timer point if you remember Bill Hunter).
It wasn’t much of a building. A small office housed PTS and its library, another housed the Gayline (sometimes ironically forced to work out of a closet to escape the noise from the meetings). As to the main meeting room, the kindest thing I can say about the space was that, much like last night’s hot date, it didn’t look too bad with the lights down. It was a community hub, however, a home, a place to be yourself. It wasn’t a sterile environment. With a DJ booth and a non-alcoholic bar, you could talk and party at the same place. It was a space to spend an entire evening with family, and the PTS discussion groups took full advantage of that.
Unfortunately ALGO, which became ALGBO and later threw a T in there as well, folded (give yourself a few more old-timer points if you remember these name changes). PTS was shuffled off to a storage locker for most of a year, and we no longer had a centre for our community. Some people suggested bold plans – a new community centre, perhaps funded by also housing both businesses and community groups. That never happened, however, and eventually PTS got space of its own.
And now we have come full circle (yes, there is a point to all this). More than a dozen years after the ALGO centre closed, we finally be nearing the realisation of a community centre of our own. Much has changed since then – we have a “gaybourhood” now, rainbow flags fly openly on Bank Street, and city hall is a friendlier place. PTS has changed as well. Its programs now seem more 12-step than community hub, and this flagship organization isn’t sure it wants to be part of a queer community centre. Small wonder that, at last fall’s special general meeting, the membership told the organization to “return to the grassroots.” Ottawa’s gay community has such a short memory, though. Does anyone now leading PTS even remember the group’s origins?
Once, people felt fear and shame for being gay, and snuck along a dark street into a hidden building to discover their community. Now we are proposing a visible and safe space for our community, and PTS suggests the best way to serve its clients is to, effectively, provide them with closets.
I understand that it may well be worth it for PTS to provide some services in locations not gay-identified, but what kind of message is the organization sending by not welcoming a move to our own community centre? Is PTS still a social service agency of Ottawa’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans community? Has it gone too mainstream? Is it really willing to give up its flagship status in our community, and take a back seat as other groups enthusiastically move into a new community centre?
It could be that I am too far removed from the people PTS now serves to understand the logistics of the situation, and it could be I need to hang up my old-timer hat. I do know, however, that PTS is not the organisation it once was. It is now for the community, but no longer really of it. If we do indeed build our community centre and PTS does not move in, I wonder how much longer PTS will be part of the community at all.
Give yourself an old-timer point if you remember a community group called PTS.