Starting a new school year can be overwhelming, but LGBT clubs on local campuses offer safer spaces, community and support.
“The Pride Centre strives to be a safer space to come chill, rant, access support and build connections on campus,” says Quinn Blue, service coordinator for the University of Ottawa’s Pride Centre. “We do advocacy, education and campaigns to make campus a more affirming space for LGBTQ-plus students.”
At Carleton University, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Centre (GSRC) is kicking off the school year with Rainbow Frosh Week, taking place from Sept 8 to 12.
“We will be providing a number of Queer 101 sessions to educate queer students and allies alike,” says Merissa Taylor-Meissner, GSRC’s programming coordinator. “The week will also feature a workshop from Venus Envy, a cupcake-decorating potluck and an anti-oppressive comedy performance by Aamer Rahman.”
Presented by the Carleton chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), the comedy show will take place on Sept 12. Rahman, who won acclaim for his work with the comedy team Fear of a Brown Planet, is currently on a solo North American tour.
The students at Algonquin College’s Queer Student Alliance (QSA) are also looking forward to a productive, fun school year.
“This year we’re hoping to put on biweekly meetings, a monthly social event and some workshops that volunteers have offered to run, but we haven’t really planned out the content yet,” says Jesse Young, a spokesperson for the QSA. “We’re going to be running office hours this year, and there’s going to be a lending library within the office.”
Young, who identifies as non-binary and trans and uses the pronoun “they,” says there is room for improvement in making the campus trans-inclusive. “I transitioned while I was going through school at Algonquin, so I’ve dealt with a lot of — I don’t want to say ignorance, but just barriers that I guess aren’t really seen as important to most people.”
One barrier is the amount of effort it takes to be addressed by your preferred name and pronoun, they say.
“You have to tell every single teacher, every single office, and that was a really hard thing,” they say. “There’s always going to be people who don’t know about queer stuff and don’t realize they’re being offensive, so I guess more awareness on campus would be good.”
At Carleton, there’s a new name-change policy to address trans-inclusiveness, Taylor-Meissner says.
“Any student can change their preferred name and pronouns on class lists, emails, et cetera, by making an appointment with the registrar’s office,” she says. “This is a very important step in ensuring the safety and inclusion of trans students at Carleton.”
The role of allies continues to be important on campus, but well-intentioned heterosexual and cisgender students need to make sure they don’t talk over their LGBT peers, Young says.
“Let queer people sort of have the space that they need to express themselves and not to take over that space, to just sort of be supportive,” they say.
At the Pride Centre, there are workshops open to everyone, providing space for people to build allyship with queer and trans students, Blue says.
At GSRC, in addition to Queer 101 trainings, allies are encouraged to attend events throughout the year to build solidarity with their LGBT classmates, Taylor-Meissner says.
In addition to ongoing support services and regular events, the LGBT campus clubs also have plans for the new year. Trans activist Laverne Cox, the star of Orange Is the New Black, will be at the University of Ottawa on March 25 for an event organized by the In My Skin campaign against racism.
GSRC is hosting Transformative Justice Week from Nov 18 to 21, with a Fighting Transmisogyny workshop with Tobi Hill-Meyer, a panel of trans-feminine people discussing their experiences and a performance by Ill Nana DiverseCity Dance Company.
Algonquin QSA has introduced office hours on Mondays from 11am to 1pm and Tuesdays from noon to 1pm. The club is also planning more events and is looking for more volunteers to help out.