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No place like home

Nathan Taylor heads drive for Ottawa queer centre

STRENGTH AND DIVERSITY OF OUR COMMUNITY. Nathan Taylor got involved in creating a queer community centre. Credit: Pat Croteau

For a quiet 30-year-old with no history of queer activism, Nathan Taylor has certainly made a splash lately.

Since last fall he’s been one of the driving forces behind the fight to create a queer community centre in Ottawa. With only a few short months under his belt as chair of the project’s steering committee, he talks with the conviction of a seasoned veteran.

“It’s important because it will give us a sense of community. It can define who we are and what our needs are,” he says. “It’ll be a place we can call home — something that represents the strength and diversity of our community.”

Born and bred in Calgary, Taylor first came to Ottawa in 1997 for an internship with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). In 2002, after finishing an International Development degree at the University Of Toronto, he moved here to stay. By day, he’s now a senior program officer at CIDA specializing in Eastern Europe.

The seed for Taylor’s community activism was planted at Zelda’s, of all places. He waited tables for a time at the popular restaurant/bar in Toronto’s gay village. Whether it was his boyish good looks, the bad amateur drag he reluctantly admits having done, or the quality of service he gave the customers, people knew who he was and it gave him a sense of belonging. “That was the only time I felt I was part of a community,” he says. “I could walk down Church Street and people would recognize me.”

Home and belonging are important themes for Taylor. He talks about enjoying the quiet life in Ottawa — rollerblading all summer on area pathways, savouring king crab at Big Daddy’s Crab Shack and Oyster Bar on Elgin or watching his favourite film, Airplane, one more time. He’s made a space for himself with his husband, Sam McEwen, and their dog, a purebred beagle they dubbed Constance Regina. He talks warmly about family and friends.

“Family to me is the people who are important in my life,” he says. “I have what Sam and I affectionately refer to as our ‘urban family,’ made up of good friends mostly in Toronto and Montreal. I also have a strong connection to my family out west and to my in-laws. They’ve been very supportive.”

Still, Taylor feels that something is missing in Ottawa. “Sam wanted us to get involved in the community because we were sinking into the Ottawa pattern of queer life that consists of highways 417, 416 and 401 for weekends in Montreal or Toronto,” he says.

So Taylor and McEwen decided to attend a meeting on the community centre project last August, and were quickly swept up by the energy and enthusiasm they found there. Since then, both have been working hard on the steering committee. Taylor remains cautiously optimistic about the project. “There is a motivation to build a sense of home for the GLBTTQ community,” he says, careful to mind his T’s and Q’s, “but there are challenges ahead. Every small step of progress means a lot.”

For Taylor, the biggest challenge facing the new community centre project is the wide range of visions that will have to come together to represent the community as a whole. “I have to get myself pumped up,” he admits. “It takes a lot of energy to manage a heated debate.”

Ultimately, Taylor’s background in public policy should serve him well. He’s used to tackling daunting challenges. At CIDA, he’s currently working on projects aimed at strengthening civil society in the Ukraine. “Imagine the challenges facing these [former Soviet-bloc] countries we grew up to fear as they now try to build democratic institutions,” he says.

Taylor brings the project management skills he’s developed at CIDA to the community centre steering committee. He hopes to find a broadly acceptable consensus and favours a pragmatic approach. “We have to take a good look at the choices that are there with full recognition of the pros and cons of each in terms of costs, feasibility, etc,” he says. “The challenge is to articulate a vision and build a plan.”

Asked what’s on tap for him in the next year, Taylor comes back to a recurring theme — home. “I see Sam and I buying our first place together and spending a long time making it ours,” he says, trying to hide a sheepish grin.

With a little luck and a lot of sweat from Taylor, McEwen and others working on the community centre project, there may soon be a new home for the Ottawa queer community as well.